June 27, 2018

ALERT - US: Whistleblower Reality Winner pleads guilty to violating Espionage Act

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the 63-month prison sentence a federal court imposed on National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Reality Winner, who pleaded guilty on June 26 to violating the Espionage Act. Winner is the first of two whistleblowers prosecuted under the Trump administration.

“Reality Winner’s long prison sentence is proof that the US government cares more about hiding information from the public than it does about its citizens’ rights to the First Amendment,” said Margaux Ewen, Director of RSF’s North America bureau. “The use of the draconian Espionage Act against whistleblowers is a growing threat to the future of investigative journalism under an administration that has vowed to double down on government leaks. RSF condemns this sentencing.”


Reality Winner pleaded guilty in a Federal District Court in Georgia to one felony count in violation of the Espionage Act, reaching an agreement with prosecutors that calls for 63 months in prison and an additional three years of supervised release. Winner’s sentence is the longest-known term a federal court has imposed for a violation of the Espionage Act in connection to a leak. If she had been convicted in trial, which was set for October, she could have faced up to 10 years in prison. Less than six months into President Donald Trump’s presidency, Winner, a former NSA contractor, was arrested on June 3, 2017, and charged with gathering, transmitting, or losing defense information under the Espionage Act. The charges against her came shortly after online investigative news outlet The Intercept published a story featuring a leaked NSA document showing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Since Winner’s initial arrest, the Trump administration has made a sustained effort to crackdown on whistleblowers.


The United States ranks 45th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.


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