The World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum expressed concern for the ongoing criminalisation of journalism following the plea bargain reached between the US and WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

After pleading guilty to a single charge under the Espionage Act of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defence information, Assange was released from custody and returned to Australia.

He had originally faced indictment on 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in relation to WikiLeaks’ publication of classified material, including the Iraq War logs. Had he been convicted, he faced 175 years in prison.

Human rights and press freedom groups called on the US government to publicly state that it would not pursue journalists for carrying out their work, including the assurance that non-American journalists would be protected under the first amendment, which protects freedom of speech in the US.

The first amendment does not currently protect journalists from other countries.

“The plea deal sets a potentially dangerous precedent and, without further assurances, risks posing a significant threat to journalists and whistleblowers who obtain or disclose public interest information,” said a WAN-IFRA statement.

“National security legislation is frequently misused or misinterpreted to silence journalism and criminalise journalists; for media organisations, it can be a regular minefield navigating the many provisions such legislation contains. Furthermore, the sweeping application of these types of laws – originally designed to combat terrorism, protect national interests, and ensure public safety – leaves them open to shocking abuse. We call on the US and other governments to make firm assurances that public interest journalism will be recognised and protected as such and, going forward, journalists and the act of doing journalism will not be targeted as a threat to national security.”

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