Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder. Photocredit: New Media Days http://www.flickr.com/photos/newmediadaysdk/4130304983/sizes/m/in/photostream/
WikiLeaks rocked the world with its exposés of private communications between diplomats and governments, as well as war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan. Its founder, 40-year-old Julian Assange (an Australian citizen) has become an ambivalent figure – either you see him as a champion of free speech and information, or you don’t. He’s been under (effective) house arrest in Ellingham Hall, Norfolk, England, (which didn’t stop him from appearing at the Occupy London protests and throwing sweets into the crowd) whilst he waits for the results of a legal battle over his extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault and rape of two women in that country on a visit to Stockholm in Augut 2010 – charges which Assanges strongly denies, and says are politically motivated. Assange also claims that should he be extradited to Sweden, he might be sent on the United States of America, where he would face charges of spying.
Assange now may have to leave the comfort of Ellingham Hall, as he has lost his extradition appeal, and face the music in Sweden. Meanwhile, Wikileaks has shut down owing to funding problems it’s been prevented by Visa and Mastercard from accepting donations through their systems. Assange’s defence lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC, took the view that he wouldn’t get a fair trial in Sweden – “He’s going to be tried in secret, and this is outrageous by our standards and by any standards,” he said, quoted on The Daily Telegraph. Robertson, and Assange’s mother, have called on the Australian government to step in to help him. He now has fourteen days to appeal against the decision. He maintains his innocence.
“No doubt there will be many attempts made to try to spin these proceedings as they occured today but they were merely technical. So please go to swedenversusassange.com if you wish to know what is really going on in this case,” said Julian Assange on the steps of the court, quoted in The Guardian.
Not the man he was. Assange is back in the headlines, said Megan Gibson on Time magazine. Once fêted for shedding light on the leaders of the world, and showing them to be “as fickle and salacious as a back-stabbing high school clique,” now both Assange and his site have lost “credibility”.
“This is self evidently not a case relating to a trivial offense, but to serious sexual offenses,” the judges, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Ouseley, said in their decision, quoted on Time.
Different views. People have taken sides: CNN quoted a First Amendment Advocacy group, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, saying that his extradition could “send a chill through journalism.” However, Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker who said that Bradley Manning confessed to him over the internet that he’d leaked documents to WikiLeaks, said on CNN “”Do I get personal satisfaction from Julian’s extradition? Well, I think Julian took Bradley for everything he was worth and hung him out to dry.”
The view from Sweden. On The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Karin Olssson said that Assange has changed in the Swedish view from a “James Bond of the internet” to a “paranoid chauvinist pig.” Trying to show Sweden as a “banana republic” that would send him to America shows just “how desperate” he’s become – claiming that Sweden is an accomplice of the CIA is something that “irrates even his most loyal fans.” The irony is that Assange once admired Sweden for its shielding of the freedom of the press. He was even going to move the center of WikiLeaks to Sweden. Now, not even the uncritical newspapers that once saw him as a hero can keep it up. He can’t recover his former glory – but at least if he showed some respect to “the Swedish justice system,” then that would be a step in the right direction.