A court filing accidentally revealed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been hit with criminal charges.
The filing is unrelated to Assange; documents in a case pertaining to sex crimes charges against someone named Seitu Sulayman Kokayi were recently unsealed and appeared to accidentally mention Assange.
“Due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer.
Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement that the filing was made erroneously.
“That was not the intended name for this filing,” he told The Washington Post.
The error seems like prosecutors pasted text into the wrong document and then filed it, the New York Times reported.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Thursday that the Justice Department was planning to prosecute Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012.
The aim to arrest and charge Assange has been on the Justice Department agenda for years but was again raised in April 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after WikiLeaks was believed to have played a role in releasing emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta during the 2016 presidential campaign, beginning with a batch taken from the party’s servers that was dumped online shortly before its national convention in July 2016. Years prior, WikiLeaks also worked with Chelsea Manning to leak classified documents on America’s military and diplomacy.
“I have no idea if he has actually been charged or for what, but the notion that the federal criminal charges could be brought based on the publication of truthful information is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set,” said Barry J. Pollack, one of Assange’s attorneys, in reaction to the news.
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, also argued that prosecution “would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations. Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest.”