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WikiLeaks founder facing 175 years in prison if extradited to the US. Photo: Getty images

Unconfirmed reports are claiming that US President Donald Trump will pardon Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, days before leaving the White House.

The information comes from Pastor Mark Burns, who's believed to have had access to Trump in the past. Just as the news broke, people jumped to react if it was indeed true.

The White House or President Trump is yet to confirm the report. No statement or tweet in this matter has been released so far. Although unconfirmed, the idea of Trump mulling Assange's pardon is not entirely unbelievable. Trump had previously considered pardoning both Snowden and Assange.

Julian Assange - Wikileaks' founder

Assange, 47, a computer hacker, founded the controversial non-profit WikiLeaks in 2006. His organisation has since published classified information and news leaks provided by anonymous sources, according to Today Online.

Assange and WikiLeaks first made international headlines in 2007 when it published a US Army manual from 2003 on “standard operating procedures” for a prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.The manual revealed controversial methods such as how prisoners were kept in isolation for two weeks in order to make them more compliant towards interrogators.

WikiLeaks made headlines again in 2010 when it published large troves of classified US diplomatic cables, and US documents pertaining to the Afghan War and the Iraq War.In the lead-up to the US presidential election in 2016, WikiLeaks released nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails and 2,000 emails from Mr. John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, damaging Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid.

The emails, which US intelligence claimed were stolen by hackers hired by the Russian government, appeared to show that the DNC favored Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Bernie Sanders, her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

What did whistle-blowing Wikileaks reveal?

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Wikileaks captured worldwide attention in 2010, when it released a video of a US military helicopter gunning down Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh, along with other civilians, in Iraq in 2007. An outside source revealed that the leak came from former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

In 2016, WikiLeaks published emails that purportedly came from campaign staffers for US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as well as the text of paid speeches she made to employees of Goldman Sachs. US intelligence officials later said the information was stolen by Russian hackers. Assange and WikiLeaks have declined to identify the source of their documents.

In 2017, WikiLeaks published thousands of documents it said detailed CIA hacking techniques for targeting internet-connected devices, such as certain televisions, as well as phones and computers.

Chelsea Manning files

Over the years, WikiLeaks released US State Department cables, Iraq war logs, top-secret files on Guantanamo detainees and a video depicting the US military killing Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists from an Apache helicopter - with all the records leaked to the organisation by former Army private Chelsea Manning, The week reported.

The disclosures, published by news outlets worldwide, “laid bare how US military and intelligence agencies carried out its war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan and the treatment of detainees it captured”, BuzzFeed News reports.

The 39-minute Apache helicopter video was perhaps the most damaging to the US government, with critics claiming that the pilots behaved as though they were in “a computer game”.

However, in 2011, WikiLeaks faced a backlash from the mainstream media for publishing raw classified data, with no attempt to protect the innocent, The Independent says.

In total, the organisation released more than 251,000 unredacted US diplomatic cables into the public domain. “At least 150 of the documents refer to whistle-blowers, and thousands include the names of sources that the US believed could be put in danger by the publication of their identities,” the newspaper reports.

The leak was condemned in a joint statement by The Guardian, The New York Times, Spanish newspaper El Pais, Germany’s Der Spiegel and French paper Le Monde. “Our previous dealings with WikiLeaks were on the clear basis we would only publish cables which had been subjected to a thorough joint editing and clearance process,” said the statement.

Sony Pictures leak

In 2015, WikiLeaks released more than 170,000 emails and 20,000 documents leaked from movie studio Sony Pictures. The emails had reportedly come from hackers working on behalf of the North Korean state who were angered by Sony’s planned release of The Interview, a comedy about two Americans hired to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

DNC emails

WikiLeaks and founder Assange were hit by further criticism in 2016, over the site’s perceived role in the US presidental election campaign. WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked Democratic National Committee emails fuelled the perception that the organisation was cosying up with the political circles of Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, de Lagasnerie adds.

One of the thousands of hacked emails from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign boss John Podesta seemed to suggest a CNN contributor had tipped off the Democrats about a question to be asked during a debate hosted by the broadcaster.

Vault 7

In 2017, as part of its so-called Vault 7 release, WikiLeaks revealed that the CIA “has been involved in a concerted effort to write various kinds of malware to spy on just about every piece of electronic equipment that people use”, says The Independent. The documents revealed the capabilities of the US intelligence agency to perform electronic surveillance and cyberwarfare, including systems to compromise cars, smart TVs, web browsers and the operating systems of most smartphones.

What crimes has Assange been accused of?

Seven years ago, Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was accused of rape. Assange wasn't formally charged and he's denied the allegation. The investigation against him has since been dropped, as the of statute of limitations ran out on some of the allegations. He'd been holed up in the embassy since June 19, 2012.

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Jullian Assange spoke from a balcony in Ecuadorian's Embassy in London, where he sought asylum in 2017. Photo: CNN.

However, Assange is still charged with violating the conditions of his bail in the UK. The country is involved because a British court agreed to honor Sweden's request for Assange's extradition in 2011. When Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy, the UK charged him with jumping bail.

In September and October, this year Assange had a four-week extradition hearing at London's Central Criminal Court and the judge overseeing the case is expected to deliver her decision on January 4. Assange faces 17 charges of espionage in the U.S. and one charge of computer misuse. If found guilty, he faces 175 years in prison.

News that Trump plans to pardon Julian Assange is a faulty

Rumor swirling around on social media that US President Donald Trump had plans to pardon the founder of Wikileaks, but then it turned out to be based on faulty information, according to Newsweek.

It's customary for outgoing presidents to issue pardons and with President Donald Trump heading into the final weeks of his presidency, there's been a push by some for the president to pardon Assange. On Monday, Pastor Mark Burns, an early supporter of Trump, posted on Twitter that the president was going to pardon Assange.

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President Donald Trump pardoned Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks. Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold placards calling for his freedom outside Woolwich Crown Court in southeast London on February 24, on the day of the opening of the full hearing into a U.S. request for Assange's extradition. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/GETTY

However, it turned out not to be true, according to Burns, who posted a subsequent tweet about an hour and a half later asking people to "disregard" his comment about Assange's pardon. Burns said he had a "faulty source."

The White House hasn't issued an on the record statement regarding Burns' tweet but the initial comment garnered more than 88,000 likes and 27,000 retweets. Some used it as an opportunity to support the possibility of a pardon, others said it played into a pattern of Trump disrespecting the rule of law and one person hoped it was a sign her family would be reunited.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication. It's unclear whether Trump has plans to pardon Assange at any point before the end of his presidency.

Along with Assange's partner Stella Morris, Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, and George Christensen, an Australian member of Parliament, called for Trump to pardon Assange. Christensen set up a website with an electronic petition for people to sign and told Sky News that a pardon for Assange is one way Trump can "stand up for free speech."

On December 7, actor Pamela Anderson, who has pushed for a pardon for Assange for more than a year, used a bikini photo to lobby the president. She posted a photo of herself in a bikini with a sign that said "bring Julian Assange home Australia," and tagged Trump in the caption that used the hashtag "PardonJulianAssange."

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