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State Department offers to protect activists exposed by WikiLeaks

By Jill Dougherty, CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The State Department is warning human rights activists of the potential fallout
  • A human rights group asked Assange not to publish names
  • The State Department has offered protection to those in jeopardy

Washington (CNN) -- The State Department said Wednesday it has offered to provide protection to human rights activists who may be in jeopardy after their identities were revealed in the latest publication of diplomatic cables by the website WikiLeaks.

That protection may include the temporary relocation of some people, the department said.

Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the State Department has reached out to human rights advocates around the world to warn them of the potential fallout from the publication by WikiLeaks of diplomatic cables that may contain their names or information about their organizations that could put them at risk.

"We have great concern," Crowley said. "There are clearly sources identified in these documents, particularly in authoritarian states, that have talked to us and we believe the release of these cables definitely puts real lives at risk. We have taken steps, in anticipation of this release."

Crowley said U.S. embassies have been in touch with both civil society and human rights activists.

"We have warned them of what's coming. We are open to help them and protect them any way we can if necessary."

The offer is similar to the one made by the Pentagon to protect Afghans and Iraqis whose names appeared in previous documents published by WikiLeaks regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The publication of such information raised concerns that those named in the documents would be targeted or punished for having cooperated with the United States.

Earlier this week, the president of Human Rights First sent a letter to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, asking him to remove the name of human rights activists and organizations from the documents before they were released.

"The public disclosure of that information -- to the extent that it includes individuals or organizations from repressive or authoritarian countries (such as Iran, China, Russia, Cuba etc.) -- is extremely reckless as it will increase their risk of persecution, imprisonment and violence," said the letter from Elisa Massimino, the president and CEO of the group.