The US Justice Department has secretly filed criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The charges were revealed on Thursday in an unrelated court document in which prosecutors mentioned the charges against Assange.
The document was an unrelated request for a sealing of charges for sex crimes against someone named Seitu Sulaymen Kokayi. There are two references to Assange: First, prosecutors assert that no procedure short of sealing would be “likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.” Second, it is stated that the charges would have to remain sealed “until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.” It is unclear what the relation is between Assange’s charges and those against Kokayi.
Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia, stated that “the court filing was made in error.”
Barry Pollack, an American attorney who represents Assange, denounced the charges, stating that “The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take” and that the news of the charges is “even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed.”
The Justice Department has studied different ways to charge Assange since WikiLeaks began publishing state secrets and government documents, seeking to find a viable legal avenue without setting a precedent of criminalizing reporting on national security matters.
In July, Robert Mueller charged 12 Russians with hacking into internal Democratic Party emails in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. The indictment makes specific mention of WikiLeaks, who received the submission of the hacked documents and published them. It would need to be shown that Wikileaks took an active role in the conspiracy, rather than simply accepting submission of the emails, in order for them to be charged.