LONDON (AP) — The conviction of Pfc. Bradley Manning shows that journalists must fight to keep their sources safe, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Tuesday, urging other media organizations to follow his group's lead in advocating aggressively on leakers' behalf.
In an interview with reporters in London following Manning's conviction on espionage and other charges, Assange said it's incumbent on every journalistic organization to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their sources against government efforts to prosecute leakers.
"It is an obligation on all journalists to protect their sources — technically if possible — and provide some legal and political support," he said. "It's an obligation of all journalistic organizations to hold the line."
Assange spoke to reporters from the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he has been holed up for more than a year to escape extradition to Sweden on sex crimes allegations.
Striking a somber tone in a dark suit and tie, the 42-year-old WikiLeaks founder condemned the verdict handed down Tuesday, but his organization had long been resigned to the Army private's conviction, arguing that the military justice system was stacked against him from the start.
Assange said he took no comfort from Manning's acquittal on the most serious charge — aiding the enemy — saying it was a "red herring" intended to distract from his conviction on nearly every other charge, including counts of espionage, theft and computer fraud.
"It can never be that supplying true information to the public is espionage," Assange insisted, describing the conviction as a hideous precedent that would spell the "end of national security journalism in the United States."
Manning is facing up to 136 years in prison, with his sentencing set to begin Wednesday.
He was convicted on 19 of 21 charges, and he previously pleaded guilty to a charge involving an Icelandic cable. The charge of aiding the enemy had carried a potential life sentence.