Julian Assange is a character of his time. He conceives and practices journalism based on principles such as freedom of expression and information, the need for transparency in the exercise of government, and the use of technological resources that characterize the telecommunications revolution, a revolution that has transformed the ways of producing, exchanging and managing the planetary economy and culture.
From the information available on Wikipedia, it appears that Assange was a researcher for Suelette Dreyfus’s book Underground, whose first edition in English was published in 1997. As a defender of transparency in information and commercial libertarianism, he was always a promoter and developer of free software.
It is important to note the awards and recognition he has garnered for his journalism. He was awarded the prize on the Index on Censorship from The Economist magazine in 2008, and other awards related to the media. He received the 2009 Amnesty International UK Media Award (New Media), for exposing extrajudicial killings in Kenya by distributing and publishing the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) Kenya report, “The Cry of Blood investigation—Extra Judicial Killings and Disappearances.” Accepting the prize, Assange said, “It is a reflection of the courage and strength of Kenyan civil society that this injustice was documented.” He has been recognized as a ‘Journalist’ by the Center for Investigative Journalism.
“The Assange and Wikileaks case is emblematic in clearly showing the limits of freedom of expression and information. This freedom is tolerable only in so far as it does not affect the strategies of domination and territorial control.”
In 2010, he was awarded the Sam Adams Award and readers of Time Magazine chose Assange as vice-champion of Person of the Year. In April 2011, he was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people. An informal survey of editors at Postmedia Network named him the most relevant journalist of the year after six out of ten respondents stated that Assange has “deeply affected how information is viewed and delivered.” Le Monde, one of five publications that cooperated with WikiLeaks to publish the Leaks document, named him Person of the Year with 56% of votes in their online survey.
In February 2011, he was awarded the gold medal by the Sydney Peace Foundation of the University of Sydney for his “exceptional courage and initiative in the search for human rights”. The five people who have received the award in the Foundation’s 14-year history have been Nelson Mandela, Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, Daisaku Ikeda; and Assange.
In June 2011, he was awarded with Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. The prize is awarded annually to journalists “whose work has penetrated the established version of events and related an impalpable truth that exposes the established propaganda, or ‘official lies.’” The jury said, “WikiLeaks has been portrayed as a phenomenon of the information age, which it is. But it is much more. Its objective of justice through transparency is the oldest and the best tradition of journalism.”
In November 2011, Assange received the 2011 Walkley Award in the category “Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism.” The annual Walkley awards have rewarded excellence in journalism since 1994 in the Australian media. Snorre Valen, a Norwegian parliamentarian, nominated him for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
Why the US desire to capture Assange?
The Pentagon wants to extradite and imprison Assange for filtering diplomatic documents from the United States on November 28, 2010 related to the air strike in Baghdad July 12, 2007, and producing the War Diaries of Afghanistan and the War Records of Iraq, in which the violations of international law and war crimes committed by the U.S. are described. This is not a new response from the Pentagon towards those it considers its enemies —the U.S. government has implemented mediatic, diplomatic and legal actions to persecute and capture him. (It is also known that there there have been secret fiscal accusations levied against Assange.)
On this same path, politicians and prominent figures in the US constantly work to silence WikiLeaks and to imprison Assange or make him disappear. For example, on November 29, 2010, Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and former candidate for Vice President for the Republican Party, asked through its Facebook page that the Obama Administration capture Assange with the same urgency accorded to persecuting Al Qaeda and the Taliban leaders. On November 30, 2010, Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News journalist, requested the execution of WikiLeaks members and those who filter documents. That same year, Donald Trump called WikiLeaks disgraceful and suggested the death penalty for releasers of information. Tom Flanagan, adviser to the prime minister of the Canadian government, in an interview with the BBC, said that Julian Assange should be killed.
The online payment company PayPal closed accounts of the organization that Assange runs because they were being used for an “illegal activity”. Around the same time, the Wau Holland Foundation, created by a German hacker that sends WikiLeaks abundant donations, had its tax exempt status rescinded by the German government. Ultimately, that status was re-instated.
What do Assange and WikiLeaks Represent?
Based on its principles and practices and on the list of enemies WikiLeaks has accumulated, one might reasonably argue that WikiLeaks constitutes an authentically democratic and liberal version of journalism and communication. It advocates freedom of expression and the right of citizens to know with transparency the actions of governments and states that seek to control the world and its markets.
Assange describes and allows us to understand that what is reconfiguring the planet is the dispute for markets and territories, and that this phenomenon is concretized through two opposing strategies: alliances among the ruling classes and rulers of friendly countries, and wars of invasion against countries rich in strategic natural resources, but whose governments are not favorable to them. And also—although not always, as in the case of Venezuela—the countries to be invaded are located close to their potential competitors such as China and Russia.
Assange and Wikileaks’ journalism helps reveal that these invaders contemplate communication, military and political strategies before, during and after the armed conflict, both within the victim countries and throughout the world. As part of that, their work has reealed that one of the spearheads of the communication strategy of the invading powers is the massive diffusion of liberal sounding values such as democracy, human rights, etc. Another part of the communication strategy revealed by Assange and WikiLeaks is that the allegation that these “hostile” governments are plotting crimes against humanity, against their own population, and that they are a danger to the security and stability of the region and the United States.
Through its investigations, WikiLeaks has revealed two essential things: 1) that the USA and its allies, especially NATO, deliberately misrepresent reality and lie to the world about the reasons why they undertake invasions; 2) that in the invasions, crimes against humanity, against the civilian population, are committed. Through its work, WikiLeaks unveiled to the eyes of the world, mainly of the most informed population, one of the most brutal faces of neoliberal globalization. Never as now, has it become so clear how the invasion of territories is a form of making “endless” the profits brought by investing in wars.
Assange and WikiLeaks have shown that the internet and Information and Communication Technology (ICT), not only serve for business and war, they are also a powerful weapon when used by democratic sectors that fight for peace and non-intervention. The Assange and WikiLeaks case is emblematic and clearly shows the limits of freedom of expression and information. This freedom is tolerable as far as it does not affect the strategies of domination and territorial control.
What has been and currently is the role played by Ecuador?
It is difficult to unravel the precise motivations of the Government of Ecuador to receive Julian Assange as a refugee in the Embassy in the United Kingdom. Public information, favorable or contrary, is more propagandistic than truthful. However, I present here an approximation based on foreign policy and the internal political situation. There could be three main reasons: Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador and representative of the progressive current within the government, aligned himself with Russia and China in defense of multilateralism. This move gave an undoubted regional prominence to President Correa, who tried to prop himself up as an important South American leader within the current of so-called progressive governments and movements. Internally, the decision to offer Assange asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London allowed President Correa to reinforce his exclusive leadership within the political movement Alianza País, and cornered even further the currents of the left that were adverse to him. This bold and courageous diplomatic move showed that he was capable of facing the Empire and the fractions of the Ecuadorian right that burst with ‘national shame’ when Correa granted Assange diplomatic asylum.
In retrospect, it seems that Correa’s government did not calculate the global situation well. The only honorable way out was to resist the veiled pressure from the U.S. and keep Assange in the embassy. Correa knew at the end of his government that it was the only role he could play, since Assange’s fate lies in the hands of agreements between the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States. (As an aside, a labor government led by Jeremy Corbin could take a turn for justice and benefit Assange.)
It is quite clear that the current president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, is determined to kick Assange out of the embassy and deliver him to the United States. As he has neither the firmness (which showed when his Foreign Minister María Fernanda Espinoza granted Assange Ecuadorian nationality) nor the leadership exhibited by Correa, Moreno is apparently simply looking for the right and the ‘argumentation’ to fulfill the task that has fallen to him—a task he clearly wants to fulfill.
Esaud Osejo is an Architect who lives in Quito, Ecuador.