Statement on Reality Winner’s Plea Deal

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Earlier this week, Reality Winner, the whistleblower inappropriately charged under the espionage act, agreed to a plea deal in connection with having given classified information to The Intercept. Winner has spent a year in pretrial detention, all of it in a county jail with inadequate facilities. Under the deal, Winner pled guilty to violating the Espionage Act and will be sentenced to 63 months in prison.

Since the beginning of her ordeal, Defending Rights & Dissent has rallied to support Winner and protest the inappropriate charges against her. We launched a petition drive calling for charges to be dropped against her on the centennial of the Espionage Act’s passage. A little over a month later on Whistleblower Appreciation day, Defending Rights & Dissent delivered 16,000 signatures to the Justice Department. We also sent a letter to the jail where Winner was held raising concerns about her conditions of confinement.

The Espionage Act is purportedly meant to prosecute spies and saboteurs. Yet, starting with Obama and continuing through Trump, there has been an unprecedented escalation of using the Espionage Act against whistleblowers. Defending Rights & Dissent opposes the use of the Espionage Act against those who lack a specific intent to harm the national security of the United States. We believe that whistleblowers who alert the public or the media to matters of public concern are heroes, not criminals. As such, we oppose the use of the Espionage Act in Winner’s case and would have opposed any criminal charges brought against the whistleblower.

Defending Rights & Dissent has long championed the rights of whistleblowers. We organized one of the first protests in support of Chelsea Manning and continued advocating for her release until Obama granted her clemency. We organized one of the first demonstrations in response to Edward Snowden’s revelations about illegal NSA spying. We awarded CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou with our Patriot Award. Recently, we released a statement, signed by whistleblowers Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, condemning the Trump-Sessions Justice Department’s prosecution FBI whistleblower Terry Albury.  

Given this strong record of support for whistleblowers, joining efforts to Stand with Reality was only natural for us.  While we understand why Winner would accept a plea deal given the ordeal she has been through and the odds against her, we are indigiant that the United States government continues to criminalize truth telling.