CIJ Statement On Prosecution Threats Against Wikileaks

    The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) unequivocally condemns any renewed attempt by the United States government to prosecute or otherwise silence WikiLeaks, its staff or its editor, Julian Assange.

    As a charity that champions critical, in-depth reporting and the defence of the public interest, the CIJ came into being in 2003 to address a deepening crisis in investigative reporting.

    WikiLeaks is a publishing organisation which engages in the core practices of investigative journalism - the cultivation of journalistic sources and the publication of true information about powerful organisations, in the public interest. Their work has, through the provision of full original source documentation and searchable archives, provided the material basis for tens of thousands of journalistic investigations worldwide. Its impact on public knowledge is incalculable. Its innovations in anonymous source protection have become industry standards, having been replicated by most major media organisations. WikiLeaks' is indisputably a journalistic organisation.

    A grand jury investigation was empanelled against WikiLeaks and its staff in 2010, seeking to prosecute the publishing organisation for its groundbreaking journalistic work making public thousands of classified US government documents. Despite the ongoing nature of that investigation, no charges were ultimately forthcoming from the Obama Justice Department.

    But according to April 20 reports in the Washington Post and CNN, themselves based on comments by anonymous government officials, the Trump Justice Department is now renewing efforts to bring criminal charges against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in response to a recent important series of journalistic publications of Central Intelligence Agency malware and cyberweapons.

    The reports come a week after the Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies on April 13, made a series of menacing threats against WikiLeaks and other publishers who report on state secrets, calling them "demons" and "hostile foreign intelligence services." Pompeo sought to delegitimize independent media using the phrase "non-state actors," and vowed to bring the CIA's resources to bear in order to deny them First Amendment protections. "It ends now," he said.

    According to CNN, the Justice Departmant has no prima facie criminal case against WikiLeaks. "Prosecutors", the report notes, "have struggled with whether the First Amendment precluded the of Assange, but now believe they have found a way to move forward."

    The reported facts bear repeating: the Trump Justice Department is devising a sophisticated prosecutorial theory in order to "find a way" around First Amendment protections in order to bring criminal charges against a publishing organisation. On the most charitable interpretation, the Trump administration has begun with the premise that WikiLeaks must be silenced, and has gone in search of a way to do so. This is by definition a politically motivated prosecution.

    This is not a threat against WikiLeaks alone. The Trump administration has shown unprecedented hostility to the oversight function of a free press. On multiple occasions, President Trump has used the government platform to incite popular contempt against traditional news organisations, and has named the news media "the enemy of the American people." Asked April 21 if a prosecution of WikiLeaks would open the door to charges against other journalists, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to comment.

    A prosecution of WikiLeaks which explicitly seeks to circumnavigate constitutional protections is a frontal assault on the free press. It aims to effectuate a de facto repeal of the First Amendment, and dramatically curtail the freedom of journalists and reporters do their jobs without fear of prosecution. It almost certainly precedes similar prosecutions brought by the Trump administration against more mainstream centres of investigative reporting. Given that WikiLeaks is not a US-based organisation, a WikiLeaks precedent would sound a death knell for independent reporting not only within the United States but throughout the rest of the world.

    The CIJ opposes any and all prosecutions of journalists for publishing true information in the public interest and therefore stands by WikiLeaks. Furthermore, we call on the wider international community of investigative journalists to come together in our common interest, and to vigorously oppose US government efforts to criminalise journalism.