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Julian Assange, the espionage law and the potential criminalization of investigative journalism



For decades, the US press has reported banned state secrets, shining a spotlight on abuse and holding responsibility for the country's top leaders. It has done these things under the protection of the first amendment and a firm belief that the Americans deserve to know the truth.

Journalists have searched the truth by receiving and reporting information that would otherwise be kept secret. Media has released material lifted from leaked documents – some of which were considered classified.

Yet no journalist – self-described or otherwise – had ever been criminally charged to reveal state secrets. It changed Thursday when the Ministry of Justice filed a complaint against Julian Assange. There were 17 new charges on WikiLeaks founder under the espionage law, accusing him of requesting, receiving, and publishing hundreds of thousands of leaked documents in 2010, methods that journalists often use for their mission.

The espionage law is at the heart of the Ministry of Justice's accusation. It was adopted in 1917 during the First World War, but has been changed several times since then. It was initially focused on actions during the war; In particular, they sought to deter the anti-war effort or any action that seemed to help the opponent by criminalizing the disclosure of state secrets.

The espionage law has only been invoked a handful of times to prosecute officials or contractors who leaked information and – even after a major revision which extended its scope beyond war activities and removed the intention of intent – exclusively against non-members of the press. The action has only been used rarely for the media and in these cases, without success.

Even with the release of the Pentagon papers, no journalist was accused or even charged with the act despite the great lengths that the Nixon administration apparently had gone to investigate the New York Times and Washington Post journalists at the heart of history. .

But the law does not provide any specific protection for journalists, nor does it recognize the idea of ​​press freedom, according to constitutional experts. There is no bar to prosecute journalists under espionage.

The original charge filed in March targeted alleged behaviors that did not suffer from the press's hard-protected freedom. It asserted that Assange collaborated with Chelsea Manning to hack government computers, particularly by helping the former US Army Inspectorate turn a code to access a classified database prosecutor.

Thursday's revised accusation went even further and tried to punish Assange for allegedly requesting delicious, receiving information from sources and publishing classified information.

According to the Penal Code, only persons with authorized access can be a "leaker" who gives the information to anyone unauthorized. Assange never had permission (and thus the law couldn't leak it), but Manning did. She was found guilty of several counts, including violations of the espionage law and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The new charge also claims that Assange released unwashed information and risked security and freedom for many people, including government sources and individuals promised anonymity.

Assange's refusal to engage in the rudimentary protection typically created by the press makes him "the most outrageous violation of journalistic standards," said lawyer Floyd Abrams, first amendment, representing the New York Times in Pentagon Papers neighborhood New York Times Co. against the United States.

Although Assange presents a particularly painful example of journalistic misdemeanor, his ethics have no bearing on whether or not the espionage law is against him, Abrams says. 19659016] A smooth slope, argued by the press lawyers, is smeared by charging journalists the most basic precondition for the espionage law. The legislation simply focuses on the nature of the published information – is it a state secret? – and whether the individual reveals, holds or receives it. The responsibility or intention is not relevant.

Questions to the court and a potential jury are: Are Assange's alleged actions justified more than just ethical criticism, and should courts interpret the law on criminal law?

Abrams looks to the Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan for clarity and precedent. Harlan described the law of espionage as "a very impenetrable statute" in his statement by the Pentagon Papers. The law is vague enough that a government that sets out to prosecute the press could easily apply it even to journalists' most ethical actions.

"When we first start the road to the use of the espionage law, where curious but harmful information is acquired from public sources, some of the most important journalistic efforts can be compromised," he said.

Stuart Karle, former director general of the Wall Street Journal and former director of Reuters News, warned of other dangers arising from Assange's prosecution: It could fundamentally change how the press communicates.

Journalists, Karle said, need not ask; The doctors know which journalists should turn to by drawing denominations from a working group. Charges like those brought against Assange will build a system where journalists will worry that just reporting on a subject may misunderstand as Karl says it as "being in cahoots with the leak or luring the source."

And it is not as if Assange's prosecution would stop leaks of classified information. They will "be made in a much more ruthless way," says Karle, creating a "dangerous" precedent for both sides.

For a person who wants to leak classified information, Karle claims, "this prosecution basically says: and even publish them themselves."

At the bottom of the slant, Karle said where there is no any protection to engage in an ethical relationship between journalist and source, why bother to blow the whistle in the first place? [19659025] Read more:

Some federal prosecutors disagreed with the decision to charge Assange under the espionage law

The United States says Julian Assange is not a journalist. That's why it shouldn't matter.

At Julian Assange, the administration throws smart and cautious out of the window

Assange is not a free press hero. And he is a long time for personal responsibility.

Mueller report confirms it: Assange is not a whistleblower or journalist


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