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US top newspapers’ editors blast Assange indictment

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (File photo)

The editors of the United States’ most influential newspapers have voiced concern over the Trump administration’s decision to charge WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying it violates the First Amendment.

The US Justice Department on Thursday charged Assange with espionage by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic files about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Department said that Assange had violated the US Espionage Act by conspiring with and assisting ex-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in obtaining access to classified information.

He now faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison in the US if convicted of all the charges against him.

On Friday, executive editors from top newspapers including The Washington Post and The New York Times denounced the decision, with The Post’s executive editor Marty Baron asserting that it "undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment."

“Dating as far back as the Pentagon Papers case and beyond, journalists have been receiving and reporting on information that the government deemed classified. Wrongdoing and abuse of power were exposed," Baron told The Daily Beast.

"With the new indictment of Julian Assange, the government is advancing a legal argument that places such important work in jeopardy and undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment."

Also, free press advocates protested the decision, with Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm describing the “unprecedented charges” as “terrifying threat to the First Amendment in the 21st century.”

“The Trump administration is moving to explicitly criminalize national security journalism, and if this prosecution proceeds, dozens of reporters at the New York Times, Washington Post and elsewhere would also be in danger.”

In addition, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and famed Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg were among many groups and individuals who voiced alarm on the decision.

Assnage was arrested inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London on April 11, some seven years after he fled to the mission to avoid a potential extradition to the US.

The arrest came after the new Ecuadorian government said it could no longer accommodate Assange in its embassy.

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