Assange charged for ‘indiscriminately’ publishing sources’ names, US lawyers say

WikiLeaks founder must wait to hear outcome of bid to halt his extradition from the UK

Julian Assange is being prosecuted for publishing sources’ names and not his political opinions, lawyers representing the United States said as the WikiLeaks founder’s latest fight to stop his extradition from Britain concluded.

US prosecutors are seeking to put Mr Assange (52), on trial over WikiLeaks’ high-profile release of vast troves of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.

They argue the leaks imperilled the lives of their agents and there is no excuse for his criminality. Mr Assange’s supporters, however, say he is a journalist and a hero who is being persecuted for exposing US wrongdoing.

Mr Assange’s lawyers told London’s high court on Tuesday that the case was politically motivated, arguing the he was targeted for his exposure of “state-level crimes” and that Donald Trump had requested “detailed options” on how to kill him.


But, on Wednesday, lawyers for the US said Mr Assange’s prosecution was “based on the rule of law and evidence”.

“The appellant’s prosecution might be unprecedented, but what he did was unprecedented,” lawyer Clair Dobbin said.

Mr Assange “indiscriminately and knowingly published to the world the names of individuals who acted as sources of information to the US”, she added. “It is these facts which distinguish him, not his political opinions.”

Ms Dobbin also responded to Mr Assange’s lawyers who cited an alleged US plan to kidnap or murder him while he was in London’s Ecuadorean embassy, reported by Yahoo News in 2021.

She said the US had given assurances about how Mr Assange would be treated that “wholly undermine this suggestion ... that anything could happen to him”.

Ms Dobbin argued that the material Wikileaks published was obtained by encouraging people to steal documents and contained unredacted names of US sources.

Mr Assange could not therefore be “treated as akin to an ordinary journalist or Wikileaks akin to an ordinary publisher”, she said.

She said the publications risked serious harm to named individuals who “lived in warzones or lived under repressive regimes”.

Mr Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, said there was “no proof at all that any harm actually eventuated”.

He also said lawyers representing Britain’s home secretary had accepted Mr Assange could in theory be charged with offences carrying the death penalty, as was former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who leaked documents to WikiLeaks.

Judge Victoria Sharp said at the end of the hearing that the court would give its decision at a later date.

Mr Assange himself was again not in court on Wednesday nor watching remotely because he was unwell, his lawyers and his wife Stella said.

The Australian’s legal battles began in 2010, and he spent seven years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy before he was dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions. He has been held in a maximum security jail in London since then, even getting married there, while Britain finally approved his extradition to the US in 2022.

Mr Assange’s lawyers say he could be given a sentence as long as 175 years, but likely to be at least 30 to 40 years. US prosecutors have said it would be no more than 63 months.

If Mr Assange wins this case, a full appeal hearing will be held. If he loses, his only remaining option would be at the European Court of Human Rights. His wife has said his lawyers would apply to that court for an injunction if necessary.

WikiLeaks first came to prominence in 2010 when it published a US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

It then released thousands of secret classified files and diplomatic cables that laid bare often highly critical US appraisals of world leaders from Russian president Vladimir Putin to members of the Saudi royal family.

Mr Assange’s supporters include Amnesty International, media groups and politicians including Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese, who last week voted in favour of a motion calling for his return to Australia. – Reuters.