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Lone US senator decries use of Espionage Act against Assange as establishment keeps mum

Lone US senator decries use of Espionage Act against Assange as establishment keeps mum
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has become a rare voice among the US politicians to denounce the new US indictment of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange as an encroachment on First Amendment rights.

In a statement on Thursday, hours after Assange was hit with 17 additional charges under the Espionage Act that carry a maximum total sentence of 170 years, Wyden warned that using the draconian legislation to effectively punish Assange for journalistic work might have dangerous implications on the freedom of press in the US.

"This is not about Julian Assange. This is about the use of the Espionage Act to charge a recipient and publisher of classified information. I am extremely concerned about the precedent this may set and potential dangers to the work of journalists and the First Amendment," Wyden said.

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Wyden is known as a long-time advocate of privacy and civil liberties in the US legislature. He championed legislation forcing the US government to obtain a warrant before spying on Americans outside the US in 2008 and pushed for a congressional investigation into allegations of abuse and torture of prisoners by the CIA during the Bush administration.

Wyden's take on Assange's work is in stark contrast with that of the Department of Justice, which maintains that Assange "is no journalist." Numerous members of the journalistic community have vented their outrage at the indictment, describing it as an "unprecedented assault" on the First Amendment.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has echoed the sentiment, denouncing the charges against the Australian as a "threat to all journalists everywhere." 

While media, civil rights organizations and prominent whistleblowers like Edward Snowden have been sounding the alarm over the new worrying development in Assange's case, politicians in Washington, with the rare exception, seem to be ignoring the buzz.

US President Donald Trump, who used to praise WikiLeaks when it released damaging emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign before the 2016 election, has not commented on the issue, being seemingly preoccupied with his spiraling feud with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, likewise, has not said a word on Assange. Her colleagues on the Capitol Hill seem to be following the trend so far.

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