“The persecution of Assange by the United States is an attack on the public’s right to know, and is a serious threat to the fundamental principles of democracy, which are increasingly fragile throughout the world”.
By Dardo Gómez, Journalist
Like a maelstrom, news companies all over the world launch, minute after minute, hundreds of thousands of news items on the most diverse subjects and disciplines; it is normal for this to happen because that is the pulse of human life. However, it is also true that most of these news items do not usually become information, and that even many of the so-called “big impact” news items do not usually survive the next avalanche or the next “impact”.
It used to be said in the days of paper that “there is nothing older than yesterday’s newspaper”, which definitively defines the ephemerality of much journalistic work. The brilliant and unbearable Jorge Luis Borges once said: “Journalism is based on the false belief that something new happens every day. I have never read a newspaper in my life. What does it matter whether a minister travels or not? You find out about the really important things anyway. I believe that newspapers are made to be forgotten, while books are for memory.
This is how tremendous this Argentinian used to be who, besides being an immense writer, enjoyed irritating ordinary people. However, he has a point when it comes to the ephemerality of news which, although important, is often erased from the collective consciousness by the avalanche of inconsequential items that are published every day.
Sometimes I ask myself why the daily avalanche of low calibre news might not have the (innocent or perverse) intention of silencing the voices that demand some preoccupation with information from our intelligence. I am talking about that dense information that serves to form opinion on the fundamentals.
Let us not forget Julian Assange
Surely injustice carpets our thoughts with many cases and things that we must not forget: those things that shout to us every day that we must work for freedom of information and that this is a daily necessity because there are tremendous powers that do not want it to be free. Neither she nor the reporters who understand journalism as a commitment to human rights.
One of these we must not forget is, precisely, Julian Assange. The utopian creator of WikiLeaks in 2006; a communication experience that aspired to use the networks to decentralise information and give citizens the opportunity to bypass the filters of the states and the agendas of the journalistic corporations for it to make the population aware of what they were hiding.
He had very few journalists around him; instead, he had people who were concerned about the ethics of the companies or institutions they worked for. People who felt complicit, in some cases, in atrocities that they did not know how to denounce or make known to the world.
If I may, I would like to refresh my memory on the facts that WikiLeaks rescued and turned Julian Assange into the Pentagon’s number one enemy.
Assange became famous in 2010 when, through WikiLeaks, he published hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents exposing U.S. abuse in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
By a “coincidence” that has never been clarified, that same year Julian Assange was arrested in Sweden for a case of alleged sexual offences, and was released from prison. At the beginning of this process, the United States asked Sweden to extradite Assange for the alleged crime of espionage. Judiciously, Assange spotted the trap to bring him before the US justice system, and left for Great Britain, from where he said he was ready to answer to the Swedish justice system’s accusation. The rape allegation was not proven, and was withdrawn years later.
By then, faced with the hesitant attitude of the British to return him to Sweden, in June 2012, Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
He remained there until the Ecuadorian government changed and the new president decreed in 2019 to deny him asylum and hand him over to the British police to be held until today in the Belmarsh high security prison in London. There, he remains awaiting legal action against the government’s decision to send him to the United States to face eighteen charges, including hacking into US military databases and disclosing secret information relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If convicted in the US, he would face a prison sentence of 175 years, his lawyers say.
Judge if this is espionage
Let’s see what crimes he has committed and what information he has disclosed on the WikiLeaks platform, which has been published by dozens of media outlets around the world and which no one has taken away from its veracity. Otherwise, these media should also be prosecuted for reckless misrepresentation, at the very least.
On 5 April 2010 WikiLeaks released a classified military video showing a US Apache helicopter shooting and killing two journalists and a group of Iraqi civilians in 2007. The military claimed that the helicopter crew believed the targets were armed insurgents, not civilians, but it was considered a case of lèse humanité by human rights experts.
Assange and WikiLeaks published documents proving physical and psychological abuse of prisoners denied legal assistance at the Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib detention centres on the eve of the US presidential election.
They also revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on three French presidents, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. Among the conversations spied on by the NSA are years of discussions about Greece’s debt crisis – including the possibility of that country leaving the Eurozone – discussions about the leadership of the European Union, and conversations about the relationship between Hollande’s government and that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
All of this is information that the public should know about and should not be kept from them as a matter of Right to Information; a universal right that does not recognise the alleged state secrets that cover up the atrocities they commit.
Those who do not believe the accusations
In a briefing to the US Congress entitled “Can the First Amendment survive the extradition of Assange?”, Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Executive Director Trevor Timm explained that prosecuting Julian Assange for obtaining and publishing information from a reliable source “directly affects the way all journalists do their work and could criminalise large aspects of how they gather news”. This would open up the possibility that states would have “a tool to target any journalist with whom they disagree.” Representatives of other press freedom and civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, Reporters Without Borders and Defending Rights and Dissent, also expressed the same view.
In a statement on 17 June last year, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the world’s largest organisation of journalists, said:
“The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is seriously concerned about the impact of Assange’s continued detention on media freedom and the rights of all journalists worldwide.
The US persecution of Assange against the public’s right to know poses a serious threat to the fundamental principles of democracy, which are increasingly fragile around the world. Whatever one’s personal views on Assange, his extradition will be a threat to freedom of the press and information.
The case sets the dangerous precedent that governments can prosecute journalists anywhere in the world for publishing information of public interest”.
Those of us who believe in freedoms of thought, expression and information must not forget Julian Assange and demand his freedom in every instance.