Australia and world media threatened again: Jeremy Hammond called against his will to appear before US Assange Grand Jury to attack media freedom

Technologist Jeremy Hammond, who exposed evidence of corrupt and unethical behaviour later published by WikiLeaks as the Global Intelligence Files (#GIFiles), has been called against his will to appear before a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia [EDVA].

The Australian Assange Campaign is deeply concerned about the targeting of Mr Jeremy Hammond, a discloser of documents showing serious wrongdoing. Barrister and Australian Assange Campaign Adviser, Greg Barns said, “this is yet another example of the targeting of whistle-blowers and exemplifies the need to protect journalists and their sources. We see this in Australia with the prosecution of Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery, the AFP raids on the ABC and News Limited journalist, Annika Smethurst. The free press is under threat in many liberal democracies like the US and Australia, and we must ensure that these rights are protected”.

Mr Barns stated “Mr Hammond and Chelsea Manning are effectively being punished twice for daring to expose corruption and human rights abuses. Given the dire situation of Julian Assange, and the fact he faces an effective death penalty for publishing material in the public interest, there is a clearly concerted attack on journalists, publishers and their sources with the aim of chilling free speech. There is a clear pattern of repression. Given the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in the US, and the vast human rights implications, the Australian government must oppose any such prosecutions, as this impacts us all”.

Hammond is already serving a ten-year sentence for his role in the disclosures. More than 25 media organisations, including WikiLeaks – newspapers, TV networks, online media and magazines with a combined audience of 500 million – published articles based on the evidence disclosed by Hammond.

In a letter written for Hammond’s sentencing hearing in 2014, members of the international press asserted his importance as a journalistic source: “The information allegedly disclosed has helped to keep the public informed about serious wrongdoings of corporations and corrupt governmental officers in more than 15 countries. In literally hundreds of articles based on these documents, we demonstrated corrupt and unethical behavior by a wide range of entities including Stratfor and its clients. These publications have led to important public interest outcomes.”

The Global Intelligence Files detail numerous examples of corrupt and unethical behaviour by US intelligence firm Stratfor and its clients. One such example is Stratfor’s surveillance of activists campaigning for redress for the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India, under contract from the factory’s current owner Dow Chemical. The leak of toxic gas from Union Carbide’s pesticide plant left thousands of Indian citizens dead and is still regarded as the world’s worst ever industrial disaster.

Hammond is not the first individual to be targeted by a grand jury investigation in the Eastern District of Virginia in connection with acts of public interest disclosure for which they have already been convicted. Former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning served 7 years in prison before her 35 year sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in one of his last acts in office.

Manning is currently back in prison for refusing to cooperate with an EDVA grand jury and is being fined 1000 USD for every day she fails to testify. Reports suggest that the grand jury Manning is being held in contempt for not cooperating with is targeting imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.

Assange faces unprecedented charges under the 1917 Espionage Act for the publication of true information in the public interest. If convicted, he will serve 175 years – an effective death sentence.

Hammond pleaded guilty to one count under the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 2013. His non-cooperating plea deal grants him immunity from prosecution in every federal court district in the United States. He was due to be released from prison at the end of the year.