AP NEWS

Judge refuses to unseal criminal charges against Assange

January 30, 2019
FILE - In this May 19, 2017 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures to supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been in self imposed exile since 2012. A federal judge has rejected a request to unseal criminal charges against Assange that were mistakenly revealed in another case. In a ruling issued Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said that free-press advocates seeking to unseal the charges have no proof Assange has actually been charged. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a request to unseal criminal charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange that were mistakenly revealed in another case.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said in a 10-page ruling that free-press advocates seeking to unseal the charges have no proof Assange has actually been charged.

The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press sought to unseal the charges after a federal prosecutor inadvertently typed a reference to “the fact that Assange has been charged” in an unrelated case.

The government has acknowledged it made an error but has not publicly confirmed that charges against Assange have been filed.

After the mistake was made, news outlets including The Associated Press reported that Assange has indeed been charged. But those reports relied on anonymous sources.

The precise charges against Assange are unclear. The Wikileaks founder has been staying in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 under a grant of asylum and has long expressed fear of a U.S. prosecution. WikiLeaks has served as a vehicle for release of thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables. In addition, WikiLeaks’ role in releasing emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 has also been under scrutiny as special counsel Robert Mueller has investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign was involved.

Criminal charges typically remain secret and under seal until a defendant has been arrested to prevent a target from fleeing prosecution or destroying evidence. Lawyers for the free-press foundation said that rationale for secrecy no longer exists given the inadvertent disclosure and the fact that Assange has long assumed he has been charged.

Brinkema, though, wrote in her ruling that the Reporters Committee “has not demonstrated with sufficient certainty that Assange has been charged. Unlike in other high-profile cases, the Government has not affirmatively disclosed that charges have been filed. Although the Government acknowledges that it made a mistake ... the nature of that mistake is fundamentally unclear.”

Katie Townsend, a lawyer for the Reporters Committee, said no decision has been made on whether to appeal. “The disclosure of the nature of the charges against Assange are a matter of public interest and should be made public,” she said.