WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The US Attorney's Office has stepped up efforts to pressure witnesses to testify against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, WikiLeaks said Wednesday in connection with the secret lawsuits filed by the Trump administration.
FILE PHOTO: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be on the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London (UK) on May 19, 2017. REUTERS / Peter Nicholls
WikiLeaks did not mention names in their public statement. But Assange's lawyers identified some of the contact persons in a document calling on the organization of human rights of the Organization of American States to demand the lifting of the charges.
Reuters received excerpts from the document submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and spoke with one of the individuals named.
The administration of President Barack Obama extensively investigated Assange and WikiLeaks after hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomats and secret documents were published detailing US-led military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The government finally decided not to initiate criminal prosecution. However, the work of the group was too similar to the journalistic activities that were protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
Late last year, a prosecutor's indictment in a non-contiguous case related to a sealed American indictment against Assange. The prosecution stated that the application had been made inaccurate and refused to confirm that an indictment had been filed.
Donald Trump praised WikiLeaks during his 2016 presidential campaign for the release of material about Hillary Clinton. Not long after Trump's inauguration, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, now Undersecretary of State, publicly called a "non-state hostile intelligence service often favored by state actors such as Russia." Assange, an Australian citizen, has sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 to prevent extradition to Sweden, where the authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation that was eventually closed.
A federal prosecutor spokesman in Alexandria, Virginia, who has been in charge of investigating WikiLeaks for several years, has not responded to a request for comment on this story.
According to the document filed with the Human Rights Commission, Jacob Appelbaum, an American computer expert and hacker, was one of the persons addressed by the prosecutors in Alexandria.
Appelbaum told Reuters that although prosecutors offered him extensive immunity from prosecution, he was not interested in cooperating or testifying before a grand jury.
Another potential witness targeted by US attorneys was David House, a computer programmer from Massachusetts, according to the document. House was involved in founding a group in support of Chelsea Manning, a US soldier who had given military communications to WikiLeaks and was detained by US authorities.
House could not be reached. The American Civil Liberties Union, representing him in connection with the Manning case, did not respond to requests for comments.
The Department of Justice also turned to American activist and computer scientist Jason Katz. Katz, who has been living in Iceland since 2011, did not respond to a request to the pirate party of this country whose founding member he was.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Sonya Hepinstall