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Julian Assange's charges are a direct assault on press freedom, experts warn

Julian Assange's charges are a direct assault on press freedom, experts warnParts of the indictment go head-to-head with basic journalistic activities protected by the first amendment, academics say A protester outside Westminster magistrates court in London on 11 April. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images The charge sheet accusing Julian Assange of engaging in criminal theft of US state secrets contains a direct assault on fundamental press freedoms and could have a devastating effect on the basic acts of journalism, leading first amendment scholars and advocacy groups have warned. Prosecutors in the eastern district of Virginia released on Thursday an indictment against the WikiLeaks founder that has been under seal since March 2018. It will now form the basis of the US government’s request for Assange to be extradited from the UK to Alexandria to face trial. Academics and campaigners condemned large chunks of the indictment that they said went head-to-head with basic activities of journalism protected by the first amendment of the US constitution. They said these sections of the charges rang alarm bells that should reverberate around the world. Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor who wrote the first major legal study of the legal implications of prosecuting WikiLeaks, said the charge sheet contained some “very dangerous elements that pose significant risk to national security reporting. Sections of the indictment are vastly overbroad and could have a significant chilling effect – they ought to be rejected.” Carrie DeCell, staff attorney with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said the charges “risk having a chill on journalism”. She added that the tone of the indictment and the public release from the Department of Justice that went with it suggested that the US government desired precisely that effect. “Many of the allegations fall absolutely within the first amendment’s protections of journalistic activity. That’s very troubling to us.” Among the phrases contained in the indictment that have provoked an uproar are: “It was part of the conspiracy that Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records from departments and agencies of the United States.” It is a basic function of journalism to encourage sources to provide information in the public interest on the activities of government. “It was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure of classified records to WikiLeaks.” Protecting the anonymity of sources is the foundation stone of much investigative and national security reporting – without it sources would not be willing to divulge information, and the press would be unable to fulfill its role of holding power to account. “It was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning used the ‘Jabber’ online chat service to collaborate on the acquisition and dissemination of the classified records.” The indictment similarly refers to a dropbox. Both Jabber and Dropbox are communication tools routinely used by journalists working with whistleblowers. A key element of the indictment is a new allegation that Assange actively engaged in helping Manning try to crack a password that allowed the US soldier to gain unauthorized and anonymous access to highly sensitive military computers. At the time, in 2010, Manning was working as an intelligence analyst at a forward operating base outside Baghdad. Experts on freedom of the press and speech were generally more relaxed about that narrow charge, standing on its own, in that it essentially accuses Assange of violating computer hacking laws – specifically the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – in a way that has no first amendment protection. If prosecutors succeed in presenting evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to that effect, it is unlikely to arouse fierce opposition across the board. Bradley P Moss, deputy executive of the James Madison Project, a public-interest group focusing on US intelligence and national security, said he was unflustered by the hacking allegation. “I have no concerns about the broader ramifications for press freedoms, whether in the US or elsewhere. What Julian Assange did is what journalists are trained not to do.” But fears for the chilling impact of the prosecution were rampant. The Center for Constitutional Rights, whose late president Michael Ratner was Assange’s lawyer in the US, warned that the threat posed by the indictment was increased by having a president in the White House hostile to the media. “This is a worrying step on the slippery slope to punishing any journalist the Trump administration chooses to deride as ‘fake news’,” it said. Two advocacy groups working in the field of press freedom also waded in. The Committee to Protect Journalists said the wording of the charges contained “broad legal arguments about journalists soliciting information or interacting with sources that could have chilling consequences for investigative reporting and the publication of information of public interest”. Freedom of the Press Foundation said: “Whether or not you like Assange, the charge against him is a serious press freedom threat and should be vigorously protested by all those who care about the first amendment.”



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Arrest Made in Sexual Assault, Murder of New Jersey Jogger

Arrest Made in Sexual Assault, Murder of New Jersey JoggerA man was arrested Sunday in the sexual assault and murder of a jogger whose body was found in a lake at Lincoln Park, according to prosecutors.



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'We just want the guns back': New Zealand announces immediate ban of assault rifles

'We just want the guns back': New Zealand announces immediate ban of assault riflesNew Zealand's Jacinda Ardern announces ban on assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and military-style semi-automatic rifles after mosque shootings.



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New Zealand Prime Minister announces immediate ban on all assault weapons

New Zealand Prime Minister announces immediate ban on all assault weaponsNew Zealand will ban military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles under tough new gun laws following the killing of 50 people in the country's worst mass shooting, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday. In the immediate aftermath of Friday's shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, Ms Ardern labelled the attack as terrorism and said New Zealand's gun laws would change. "On 15 March our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too. We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place," Ms Ardern told a new conference. “All semi-automatic weapons used during the terrorist attack on Friday 15 March will be banned." Ms Ardern said she expects the new laws to be in place by April 11 and a buy-back scheme will be established for banned weapons. The buyback would cost up to NZ$ 200 million ($ 138 million), she said. All military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles would be banned, along with parts used to convert weapons into MSSAs and all high-capacity magazines. Under existing New Zealand gun laws, A-category weapons can be semi-automatic but limited to seven shots. Live-streamed video of a gunman in one of the mosques showed a semi-automatic weapon with a large magazine. Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun buy-back after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 in which 35 people were gunned down. Ms Ardern said that similar to Australia, the new gun laws will allow for strictly enforced exemptions for farmers to conduct pest control and animal welfare. "I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride." Floral tributes to those who were gunned down at the two mosques are seen against a wall bordering the Botanical Garden in Christchurch Credit:  MARTY MELVILLE/AFP New Zealand, a country of less than 5 million people, has an estimated 1.2-1.5 million firearms, around 13,500 of them MSSA type weapons. Most farmers in the Pacific country own guns, which they use for killing pests such as possums and rabbits, and for putting down injured stock. Recreational hunting of deer, pigs and goats is popular for sport and food, while gun clubs and shooting ranges dot the country. That has created a powerful lobby which has thwarted previously attempts to tighten gun laws after other mass shootings in New Zealand and overseas. Federated Farmers, which represent thousands of farmers, said it supported the change. "This will not be popular among some of our members but…we believe this is the only practicable solution," Federated Farmers Rural Security spokesman Miles Anderson said in a statement. The changes exclude two general classes of firearms which are commonly used for hunting, pest control, stock management on farms, and duck shooting. "I have a military style weapon. But to be fair, I don't really use it, I don't really need it," said Noel Womersley, who slaughters cattle for small farmers around Christchurch. "So I'm quite happy to hand mine over, to be fair." Ms Ardern said the next tranche of reforms will cover the firearm registry and licencing. Also on Thursday, police said they'd inadvertently charged Tarrant with the murder of a person who is still alive. Police said in a statement they had apologized to the person incorrectly named on the document and would change the charge sheet. They said the charge remains valid, so there was no chance the suspect would be released as a result of the error. Police did not offer further details of what went wrong or make anybody available for an interview. The name of the person on the charging sheet has been suppressed by court order. Officials said more charges against Tarrant would follow. Tarrant, 28, is next scheduled to appear in court on April 5, and Bush said investigations into him were continuing. Police have said they are certain Tarrant was the only gunman but are still investigating whether he had support.



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New Zealand Bans Assault Rifles in Wake of Deadly Attacks

New Zealand Bans Assault Rifles in Wake of Deadly AttacksThe ban takes immediate effect to prevent stockpiling of firearms while the legislation is being drafted, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters on Thursday. Further changes in gun laws to tighten licensing and increase controls over ammunition will be made in coming months. “I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride,” she said.



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New Zealand bans all assault weapons after mosque shootings, prime minister says

New Zealand bans all assault weapons after mosque shootings, prime minister saysPrime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand is immediately banning assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and "military style semi-automatic rifles" like the weapons used in last Friday's attacks on two Christchurch mosques.



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US-backed Syrian forces resume assault on last IS redoubt

US-backed Syrian forces resume assault on last IS redoubtUS-backed forces said Sunday time was up for Islamic State group jihadists hunkering down in their eastern Syrian holdout and resumed their assault on the pocket. The extremists once ruled over millions in a swathe of Syria and Iraq, but they have since lost all that land except for a riverside encampment in the village of Baghouz. The Syrian Democratic Forces has slowed down its months-long campaign against IS in recent weeks to allow civilians and surrendering jihadists out from their shrinking enclave.



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More civilians leave Islamic State's Syria enclave, delaying final assault

More civilians leave Islamic State's Syria enclave, delaying final assaultThousands of people – many of them the wives of IS fighters and their children – have been streaming out of besieged enclave at Baghouz for weeks, forcing the SDF to delay the assault to wipe out the last vestige of the jihadists’ territorial rule. The SDF has said it wants to make sure all civilians are out of the enclave before launching its final assault. Hundreds of IS fighters have also surrendered, but the SDF believes the most hardened foreign jihadists are still inside.



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Syria force poised for final assault on IS

Syria force poised for final assault on ISAL-OMAR OIL FIELD (Syria) (AFP) – Kurdish-led fighters vowed Thursday to crush the last remnant of the Islamic State group’s “caliphate” in Syria within a week, after saying they have evacuated hundreds of people from the jihadist holdout. The Syrian Democratic Forces are poised to storm the pocket held by jihadists on the edge of the village of Baghouz, the last patch of the organisation’s once sprawling “caliphate”. Thousands of men, women and children, have poured out of the riverside hamlet in recent days, posing a huge humanitarian challenge for the US-backed Kurdish fighters leading the operation.



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Syria force launches assault on last IS pocket: spokesman

Syria force launches assault on last IS pocket: spokesmanKurdish-led forces launched a final assault Friday on the last pocket held by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria, their spokesman said. The Syrian Democratic Forces have been closing in on the holdout jihadists since September last year and a few hundred surviving IS members are now boxed into an area of around less than half a square kilometre. The “operation to clear the last remaining pocket of ISIS has just started”, SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali, said in a statement using another acronym for the jihadist group.



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