October 30, 2020

The Similarities Between The US’s Case Against Julian Assange And Brazil’s Against Glenn Greenwald Are Uncanny

When Julian Assange was arrested in the UK and taken out of the Ecuadorian embassy, many of us raised concerns that the charges against him appeared to be things that every investigative reporter does in finding sources. The superseding indictment of Assange made it clear that the DOJ’s case against Assange was a direct attack on a free press. Indeed, even some federal prosecutors worried about the charges going way too far.

Yet, we got tremendous pushback on this, as people kept insisting that it was different, that Julian Assange had gone further than normal reporters, and that because there have been claims that he was associated with the Russians, that this somehow made the charges against him okay. Yet, with the recent news of Brazil charging Glenn Greenwald with crimes for reporting on leaked documents, we noted that the case seemed to parallel the US’s case against Assange. Mathew Ingram, over at the Columbia Journalism Review, has now written a more in-depth piece on how the two cases mirror each other:

This strategy—trying to paint a journalist as an active participant in a crime, as opposed to just the recipient of leaked material—is clearly a heinous attack on freedom of the press protections, something journalists and anyone in favor of free speech should be up in arms about. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The case against Greenwald happens to be almost a carbon copy of the Justice Department’s argument in the affidavit it filed against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last year, which contains more than a dozen charges under the Espionage Act. Just like the Brazilian government, US prosecutors try to make the case that Assange didn’t just receive leaked diplomatic cables and other information from former Army staffer Chelsea Manning, but that he actively participated in the hack and leaks, and therefore doesn’t deserve the protection of the First Amendment.

Regardless of what we think of Julian Assange or WikiLeaks, this is an obvious attack on journalism, just as Brazil’s legal broadside against Glenn Greenwald is an obvious attack by Bolsonaro on someone who has become a journalistic thorn in his side. A man who helped win a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on leaked documents involving mass surveillance by US intelligence, files that were leaked to him by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. And the charges come even after Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled last year that Greenwald could not be prosecuted for the hacking case because of press freedom laws. In a statement, Greenwald called the Brazil charges “an obvious attempt to attack a free press in retaliation for the revelations we reported about Minister Moro and the Bolsonaro government,” and said he and the Intercept plan to continue publishing. And so they should.

What’s even more concerning about this: even if you think that Assange is a terrible human being and actively conspired with the Russians, even if you think he belongs in jail, recognize that the US DOJ has given a great playbook to every authoritarian country out there on how to arrest and jail journalists reporting on leaks, and to claim that they’re just doing the same thing as the supposed bastion of a free press, the United States.
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