WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged by the US Justice Department with receiving and publishing classified information.

The charges are contained in an 18-count indictment announced on Thursday.

The new Espionage Act charges go far beyond an initial indictment against Assange made public last month that accused him of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in a conspiracy to crack a Defence Department computer password.

Wikileaks caused particular harm by publishing the names of people who helped American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. diplomats around the world.

The new indictment says Assange conspired with Manning to obtain and disclose classified national defence documents, including State Department cables and reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It says his actions “risked serious harm” to the United States.

The case presented questions about media freedom, including whether the Justice Department is charging Assange for actions — such as soliciting and publishing classified information — that ordinarily journalists do as a matter of course.

Department officials said they believe Assange strayed far outside First Amendment protections.

But a lawyer for Assange said the “unprecedented charges” against his client threaten all journalists looking to inform the public about actions taken by the US government.

Barry Pollack said the indictment charges Assange with “encouraging sources to provide him truthful information and for publishing that information”.

The 47-year-old is in prison in London after being evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in April. The US is seeking his extradition.


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