Fresh questions are being asked whether US federal prosecutors were so dogged in their pursuit of computer programmer and internet activist Aaron Swartz because they were acting in retaliation of an online petition which supported the defendant.
Swartz committed suicide in January while awaiting trial on
federal charges. He was accused of downloading thousands of
documents from the online database JSTOR while using the campus
network at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The
26-year-old was facing a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison
and a US $1 million fine.
After coming under harsh public scrutiny for its role in the case
– including accusations that university administrators targeted
Swartz and sought his prosecution – MIT released a report in July
absolving administrators of any wrongdoing. Critics have also
wondered why university officials were kept out of the public eye
while assistant US Attorney Stephen Heymann assembled the case
against Swartz, even as the suspect himself publicly proclaimed
his own innocence.
Using Demand Progress, an organization he founded, Swartz
declared that he had done nothing wrong. The digital rights
organization, which pushes for progressive policy changes, ran an
online campaign supporting Swartz.
“The prosecutor said that, pre-indictment, he had wanted to
approach the case on a human level, not punitively. To this
extent he made an extremely reasonable proposal, and was
‘dumb-founded’ by Swartz’s response,” the MIT report
“The prosecutor said that the straw that broke the camel’s
back was that when he indicted the case, and allowed Swartz to
come to the courthouse as opposed to being arrested, Swartz used
the time to post a ‘wild internet campaign’ in an effort to drum
up support. This was a ‘foolish’ move that moved the case ‘from a
human one-on-one level to an institutional level.’ The lead
prosecutor said that on the institutional level cases are harder
to manage both internally and externally.”
The suggestion that Swartz should have silently gone to court
rather than exert his constitutionally protected right to Free
Speech in order to be fully protected under the law has not gone
without notice and criticism.
Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote a letter about the
case to US Attorney General Eric Holder, questioning whether the
Department of Justice was acting in the truest meaning of the law
when it escalated the case against Swartz.
“The implication that the Department ratcheted up the
prosecution by moving the case to an ‘institutional level’ after
it discovered the petition by Demand Progress suggests that the
Department acted in a retaliatory manner, and that it bases its
charging decisions on externalities such as an Internet
campaign,” wrote Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight
“The suggestions that prosecutors did in fact seek to make an
example out of Aaron Swartz because Demand Progress exercised its
First amendment rights in publicly supporting him raises new
questions about the Department’s handling of this
Swartz’s attorney Eliot Peters previously filed a complaint with
the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional
Responsibility, accusing Heymann of misconduct in connection with
the aforementioned allegations.
“Heymann appears to have abused his discretion when he
attempted to coerce Mr. Swartz into foregoing his right to a
trial by pleading guilty. Specifically, Heymann offered Mr.
Swartz four to six months in prison for a guilty plea, while
threatening to seek over seven years in prison if Mr. Swartz
chose to go to trial,” the letter stated in January 2013.
Republished from: RT