Julian Assange and the case of diminishing press freedom across the Globe

A famous English aristocrat once said that if a person walking down the streets of London telling the truth to people he met, he would probably be killed before he went a couple of hundred meters. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister has called for the arrest of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. After more than 7 years of an international witch hunt against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange and his illegal detention at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, on 11th April 2019, London metropolitan police entered the Ecuadorian embassy and dragged Julian Assange out. Rumors of his imminent arrest have been doing the rounds for some weeks in the media. He has been arrested for jumping bail issued by the London court and avoiding arrest by seeking refuge in Ecuador Embassy after Ecuador granted him citizenship and asylum status in 2012. Though the made up charges of rape in Sweden were officially dropped by Swedish police, the US Department of Justice is contemplating ways to extradite him to US and try him for espionage. 

Julian Assange dragged out of Ecuadorian embassy
Chelsea Manning born Bradley Manning , former US soldier released secret US documents exposing US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The leaked secret indictment documents on Assange shows that the main charge against him is that of helping Chelsea Manning to crack open secret US files stored on pentagon computers Linked to Secret Internet Protocol Network(SIPRNet). This act will go down in history as one of the most shameful acts on curtailing press freedom by the so-called liberal democracies. This will set a precedent by which all journalists who publish classified information, delete metadata/ chat logs and protect their sources could be prosecuted by the US. It is not only an attack on the idea of journalism itself but it’s also a dismissal of international law. Assange is an Ecuadorian citizen and was granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain. According to international law, Assange cannot be tried in US. As per the United Nations working party covenant on arbitrary detention to which Britain is also a signatory Assange can’t be arrested. It has also warned that Assange is at “the risk of serious human rights violations” if extradited to the United States.

Assange was given Ecuadorian citizenship and asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy by former president Rafael Correa, who was ousted and exiled in May 2017 after a constitutional coup installing the present President Lenin Moreno. On 11th April 2019, Ecuador revoked Assange’s asylum status facilitating his arrest. Ex-President Rafael Correa has accused Moreno of prostrating before the United States for 4.2 billion IMF loan which was sanctioned after the arrest to guarantee the Washington’s neo-liberal economic structural reforms agenda in Ecuador. WikiLeaks has released the corrupt dealings of Moreno several times.

WikiLeaks founded by Assange in 2006 is a network of hackers and tech-savvy individuals who leak important secret documents, deals, and agreements done by governments across the globe. Wikileaks aims to bring transparency in social life by leaking the information which has been kept secret from its own citizens. Sources who did not want to be whistleblowers openly found refuge in WikiLeaks by submitting information to them. The leaked documents often detail the architecture of creeping surveillance state and curbing of civil liberties across the globe.  In 2013, Edward Snowden also revealed that the US is doing widespread surveillance on its own citizens as well as several other countries in connivance with their local governments. 

Edward Snowden, an ex CIA agent employee, leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. His disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments.

 From April and November 2010, WikiLeaks published over 90,000 files that range from military details to diplomatic cables from different parts of the world. The files contained information about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The documents exposed the links between US intelligence agencies, Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia under the pretext of “war on terror”. It also exposed the terror funding by oil-rich states in the Middle East spearheaded by Saudi Arabia.

Among the leaked files was a video called “Collateral Murder”. The video later became viral and can be found on various media outlets. The video shot from an American helicopter shows indiscriminate firing on 12 unarmed Iraqi civilians, killing two Reuter’s reporters and injuring 2 children around the outskirts of Baghdad. As per one American soldier’s confession, American soldiers were made to sing during training “I went down to the market where all women shop, I pull out my machete and began to chop” gives a glimpse of the chilling nature with which the western powers operated with impunity. The pentagon justified these actions as a part of the operational procedures by army personnel on the battlefield.The documents on Afghanistan detail the nature of civil war fought by the Taliban before the American invasion. Ironically, after 17 years of “war on terror,” America is negotiating power-sharing with Taliban. 

Wikileaks expose’ brought forth many testimonies and confessions from the US army and administration about the nature of American Imperialism and its war on terror. The testimonies also exposed the war crimes of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq and how mainstream media acts as an extension of the ruling class mouthpiece. The brutality and horrors of American military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Gharib prison were a cause of big embarrassment for the US. 

In 2016, before US presidential elections Wikileaks published Hilary Clinton’s and her administration emails confirming the link between Hilary Clinton and terror financiers in the Middle East who were hand in glove with the jihadist and ISIS. It was Hilary Clinton who was the secretary of the state when ISIS started creating havoc in Iraq and Syria. The leaks proved that she organised one of the biggest arms deal in history with Saudi Arabia. The deep state that wanted Hillary to win immediately linked Trump’s victory to Russian meddling in American elections (Russia gate). Hillary supporters and Democratic Party that lost to Trump accused that Julian Assange conspired with Russia and helped Trump in winning elections. In March 2017, WikiLeaks started releasing a series of documents called “Vault 7” that detail activities of CIA to perform electronic surveillance and cyber warfare. The files include details of agency’s ability to compromise cars, smart TVs, web browsers, operating systems, and most smartphones. Vault 7 leaks have infuriated CIA as it leaked their plans of planting spying malware worldwide that would appear to have initiated from Russia and China.

The arrest of Julian Assange comes at the time when there is increased suppression on press freedom and most of the media outlets are serving the corporate interests across the globe. In India as well when Radia tapes and Panama papers were leaked, most media outlets were silent and no action was taken against the people named in the tapes. Comparatively, Pakistan fared relatively better where it arrested its former prime minister Nawab Sharif named in Panama papers. In India, the Radia tape and Panama papers accused are busy in strengthening their corporate-political nexus. Many have jumped into open endorsement and promotion for BJP.

 India is at the 138th position in the press freedom index with Pakistan on 139th. So far there have been more than 300 reported cases of attacks and harassment, 51 murders and five suicides on RTI activists. There are increasing threats, attacks and murders on people who have been fighting to bring justice, transparency, and rationality in civil society through social activism and other forms of Investigative Journalism. The majority of the Indian media is toeing to the ruling party’s divisive plans without any resistance, let alone question it. With the increasing surveillance and diminishing public spaces, the future challenge to civil society would be to solve the paradox of teaching truth and honesty to our children on one hand or silencing them when they become adults. It’s up to the citizens across the globe to rise to the potential challenges that threaten to change the fundamental social fabric of society. In these times, to stand with Assange is to stand with Gauri’s, Kalburgis,  Dhabolkars, Pansares, GN Saibaba’s and Anand Teltumbdes and many countless people working to make another world possible.



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April 2024


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