Julian Assange: Journalist or Hacktivist, What’s Next?
Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is one step closer to extradition to the United States after a British court ruling. He is wanted in the U.S. on 18 charges including espionage, hacking and the publication of military secrets. If convicted, he faces 175 years in prison. But more importantly, his case will determine the future of free press and how authoritarian governments might deal with journalists. Pending a final appeal to the British Supreme Court the international community is split in its own judgment. Some believe Mr. Assange is a journalist and must be protected from persecution for the publication of secret military information. Others believe he is not.
Yes, He’s a Journalist, a Hero.
Critics of the U.S. effort to prosecute Assange claim that his trial could significantly cripple press freedom around the world. In one video released by Wikileaks in 2010, shows U.S. Apache attack helicopters firing indiscriminately at a crowd in Baghdad, Iraq, killing a number of civilians, including two Reuters journalists.
Assange is not a traditional publisher, but the Guardian newspaper believes the U.S. itself is dealing a blow to freedom of the press and should withdraw the indictment of Mr. Assange. The Guardian is joined in its criticism of the U.S. by many civil liberties and human rights groups as well as freedom of the press institutes and organizations to protect journalists. These groups also believe that the “inditement criminalizes investigative journalism.”
Mr. Assange faces an 18-count indictment from the U.S. government, accusing him of hacking into U.S. military databases to obtain thousands of sensitive, secret information relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, which he then published on the Wikileaks website. He says the information exposed abuses by the U.S. military.
But the U.S. says the leaks of hundreds of thousands of classified information and diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011, endangered lives. The leaked information however sparked an international outcry.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and President Biden himself, have been calling on the world to free all jailed journalists. Is the U.S. acting as a role model for the world, wondered Mr. Assange’s younger brother, Gabriel Shipton. If the U.S. sets his brother free it will set the standard for the rest of the world to follow.
No. Not a Journalist. He’s a Hacktivist
The future of Mr. Assange and that of journalists will depend largely on how a U.S. court views the founder of Wikileaks, and whether he is a journalist or not. Mr. Assange himself defined himself as an information activist. A journalist is someone who must see at least two sides to a story. A journalist is someone who seeks the nearest possible version of the truth. Mr. Assange, who raised $1 million in private donations, had won two journalistic awards in his early career- -The Economist’s New Media Award, in 2008 and the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2011. Throughout his trial in London, he maintained he is a little more than a journalist and a publisher. He has declared himself a champion of “radical transparency.” To many, however, his claim that he is a journalist is false. What is the definition of a true journalist?
Definitions abound. For one, according to the American Press Institute, a journalist should aim at assembling and verifying facts, conveying a fair and reliable account of their meaning. A true journalist will not deliberately lie as Assange did. Nor will he hack into computers.
His Links to Russia
Mr. Assange also was selective in his targets and his work has followed closely Russian President Putin’s agenda. He has revealed very little about Russia or other countries. He was granted protection at the Ecuador’s embassy in London in 2012, for seven years, because the country’s president at the time, Rafael Correa, was an ally of Putin’s. And Wikileaks figures prominently in the Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The July 2018 indictment of 12 Russian agents describes how the Russian military intelligence, GRU, worked closely with “Organization 1”, Wikileaks, against the U.S.
Mr. Assange worked diligently to advance Putin’s goals. The Russian President wanted Hillary Clinton to lose the election. There is plenty of evidence that the Russians stole Clinton’s campaign emails and gave them to Wikileaks for publication at a critical moment.
This is not the work of a journalist, his critics assert.
Send him to his Native Australia
Whether Assange is a journalist or not his conviction by an American court could land him in prison for 175 years. But practically he will be behind bars for only 4-6 years. He has already spent most of the past decade in jail. So, let’s secure our computers and reputation as a champion for free press and bundle Assange on the first flight to his native Australia, where he may sign up for a class on real journalism. More by Atef A Gawad
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