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Assange went beyond journalism, put lives at risk, US tells UK HC

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LONDON: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should face espionage charges in the US because he put innocent lives at risk and went beyond journalism in his bid to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified US govt documents, lawyers for the American govt argued Wednesday.
The lawyers spoke before Britain’s high court in response to a last-ditch bid by Assange’s defence to stop his extradition from the UK to the US.
Assange’s lawyers are asking the HC to grant him a new appeal – his last legal roll of the dice in the long-running legal saga that has kept him in a British high-security prison for the past five years.
The 52-year-old Australian has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a huge trove of classified US documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege Assange encouraged and helped US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.
Lawyer Clair Dobbin told HC Assange damaged US security and intelligence services and “created a grave and imminent risk” by releasing the thousands of documents – risks that could harm and lead to the arbitrary detention of innocent people, many of whom lived in war zones or under repressive regimes. Dobbin added that in encouraging Manning and others to hack into govt computers and steal from them, Assange was “going a very considerable way beyond” a journalist gathering information.
Assange was “not someone who has just set up an online box to which people can provide classified information,” she said. “The allegations are that he sought to encourage theft and hacking that would benefit WikiLeaks.”
Assange’s lawyers had argued Tuesday that authorities are seeking to punish Assange for WikiLeaks’ “exposure of criminality on the part of US govt on an unprecedented scale,” including torture and killings. Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said Assange may “suffer a flagrant denial of justice” if he is sent to the US.
Dobbin rejected claims that the charges are a “tool of oppression” to punish Assange for his political opinions. She said the prosecution is based on law and evidence, and has remained consistent despite changes of govt in the US during the course of the legal battle. She said it was not necessary for WikiLeaks to publish sensitive material, including names of those who could be endangered. Media outlets that redacted the documents before publishing them are not being prosecuted, she said.
Assange was absent from court on Wednesday and Tuesday because he is unwell.
The court could deliver a verdict at the end of the hearing Wednesday, but is more likely to take several weeks to consider its decision.

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