“There can be no freedom of thought without knowledge of reality. In 1948, the United Nations said in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “freedom of opinion and expression” implies the right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”~ Reporters Beyond Borders.
World over, truth and people who speak or pursue it, are facing an unprecedented scale of attack.
Social movements around the world have always found support and voice among progressive journalists within our territories and elsewhere, who dared to expose our realities of the countryside by writing about us and talking about us.
Over the last three decades, as electronic and print media outlets around the world were taken over and controlled by Corporate interests, some journalists who understood journalism as a revolutionary act of speaking truth to the power dared to challenge the dominant capitalist narratives. They refused to bow to the pressure to turn news into a commodity for people’s entertainment and dared to speak about the reality confronting rural families and urban workers. This act of telling the truth has resulted in many of them being attacked, killed or incarcerated.
Criminal prosecutions are often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities. In 2020 alone, at least 20 journalists have been killed, over 240 imprisoned – according to data maintained by Reporters Beyond Borders. These are the reported numbers. The attack on scores of community journalists, who work in regional or native languages in our countries often does not get recorded. Hence, the actual number would be way too high.
It is in this context that we must look at the case of Julian Assange – a journalist, whose commitment to reveal the darkest secrets of US-led war machinery, has resulted in the most disturbing scale of human-hunt in recent times.
Julian founded WikiLeaks in 2006. Its revelations have repeatedly had global impacts, raising awareness of world events and impacting public debate. Some notable WikiLeaks publications include “Collateral Murder,” the “Afghan War Diaries,” “Cablegate,” and “Spy Files: Russia”.
In the process, Julian Assange also faced the wrath of the world’s imperial powerhouse – the United States of America. The American administration is defying all the known principles of natural justice to “teach Assange a lesson”, for daring to expose their dirtiest secrets.
At present, the Trump Administration’s use of the Espionage Act could lead to Assange’s conviction and a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
This would set a dangerous precedent for all journalists who publish classified information that is of public interest. In retaliation for his role in facilitating significant revelations in the international media about the way the United States conducted its wars, Assange is facing 18 charges in the US, including 17 under the Espionage Act.
Assange’s “alleged crimes” date back to 2010, when the organisation he founded, WikiLeaks, transmitted documents to media outlets including Le Monde, The Guardian and The New York Times. The documents, which were provided to WikiLeaks by whistleblower Chelsea Manning, included 250,000 US diplomatic cables and thousands of mostly classified internal US army reports about military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their disclosure exposed cases of torture, abduction and disappearances.
The publication of these documents by media outlets was clearly in the public interest, and not an act of espionage. Julian Assange’s contribution to journalism is undeniable.
Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for seven years, but, as a result of a change of government in Ecuador, he was released to UK authorities and arrested on 11 April 2019.
After visiting him in London’s Belmarsh prison on 9 May 2020, UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer reported that Assange had been deliberately exposed to an inhuman and degrading treatment that could be described as psychological torture.
At this point, an extradition hearing is underway in UK and Assange’s defense team publishes updates here.
In an article for the Independent, noted journalist and film maker John Pilger writes; “The extradition hearing in London this week is the final act of an Anglo-American campaign to bury Julian Assange. It is not due process. It is due revenge. The American indictment is clearly rigged — a demonstrable sham.”
Now is a crucial time for concerned citizens around the world to speak up in favour of transparency and speak out against the US war against journalists.
As Win Tin, late Burmese journalist, politician and political prisoner, who endured 19 years of imprisonment, brutal living conditions, and torture under Myanmar’s military government, had reminded us; “Freedom of information is the freedom that allows you to verify the existence of all the other freedoms.”
Beside the fact that this is an open attack on freedom of expression, a conviction of Assange in the United States is a precedent for that country to request extradition and judge under its laws any person, anywhere in the world. This opens a path of legal uncertainty for any person or organization that opposes imperialist actions.
For all this, it is important that we join in the defense of Assange. To defend Assange, at this moment, is to defend our right to continue struggling, denouncing and organizing ourselves.
We must demand that Julian Assange will not be extradited to the US, and that he be immediately released, receive medical attention and be able to live with his family.
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