Group promotes defense of whistle-blowers

(By Deutsche Welle) On Thursday, Edward Snowden held a live online chat to answer questions about his revelations. The Courage Foundation, which hosted the chat, offers people a way to contribute to Snowden’s legal defense.

In response to the recent crackdown on national security whistle-blowers, concerned journalists and activists have created a new fund to protect sources from legal retribution. The Courage Foundation has begun assisting former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and plans on expanding its client base to other journalistic sources who are being prosecuted for their revelations.

The foundation runs a website for Snowden, where anonymous donations can be made to support his legal defense. According to the site, over $99,000 has been raised so far. Granted temporary asylum in Moscow after the US State Department cancelled his passport last summer, Snowden is the latest national security whistle-blower to be indicted by Washington under the US Espionage Act. If convicted, Snowden could face up to 30 years in prison.

Six other whistle-blowers have been prosecuted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act for passing along classified national security information to the press. Army Private Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley, was convicted under the Espionage Act and sentenced to 35 years in prison last July for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables and war logs to WikiLeaks. Journalists have sharply criticized the use of the Espionage Act against leakers, saying that it could lead to the criminalization of national security reporting.

The Courage Foundation, originally called the Journalistic Source Protection Defence Fund (JSPDF), has emerged in reaction to the aggressive crackdown on Snowden and organizations such as WikiLeaks by Western governments, particularly the US and the UK.

“Its origin was in the clear perception of most journalists, who are involved in sensitive issues, that there is as a serious problem of protection of sources, their own privacy – protection of stories as well for that matter,” Gavin MacFadyen, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, told DW.

“It emerges out of that sense that nothing is sacrosanct anymore,” said MacFadyen, who sat on the JSPDF’s steering committee.

WikiLeaks experience

According to its terms, the JSPDF’s steering committee was made up of at least three people, but allowed for an expansion to a maximum of 20 members. In addition to MacFadyen, Julian Assange and Czech-Slovak human rights attorney Barbora Bukovska also sat on the original committee. It’s unclear whether the makeup and terms of the committee will change now that the JSPDF has become the Courage Foundation.

WikiLeaks and the Courage Foundation are not officially linked, according to MacFadyen. But the move by several major US banks in 2010 to impose a financial blockade against WikiLeaks demonstrated the need for a defense fund.

“The funds that would have normally supported the organization were simply destroyed,” MacFadyen said. “It was no longer possible for anybody to submit funds to WikiLeaks and that covers the legal defense as well, all of which is costly.”

“So with its inability to conduct its own defense because of those kinds of privations, I think there was a lot of impetus among the WikiLeaks people and others for there to be some kind of forum where there could be a normalization of defense,” he said.

For journalist sources only

If the original terms for the JSPDF also apply to the Courage Foundation, then donations can be used only “for journalistic sources’ legal defense in regard to their revelations.” The UK accounting firm that manages the money, Derek Rothera & Company, also handles Julian Assange’s defense fund. Assange remains stranded in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, unable able to leave for fear of being extradited to Sweden for questioning about sexual assault allegations. He claims the allegations are trumped up and would ultimately lead to his extradition and prosecution in the US for his work with WikiLeaks.

The JSPDF’s terms state that any money left over after litigation must be either returned to the donors or given, by selection of the committee, to one of a number of civil liberties organizations. Those groups include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Government Accountability Project and Reporters Sans Frontieres.

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