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Thursday, 02 December 2010 10:43

Assange on Interpol most wanted: reality check

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OPINION Rape is a heinous crime and if Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is proven guilty then he should do serious time in a Swedish prison. That said, it must be asked when was the last time a person was made Interpol's most wanted criminal for alleged non-consensual sex - or are there other factors at play?


After the release of 250,000 US diplomatic cables on the Wikileaks website has embarrassed people in high places, governments, politicians and commentators all over the Western world have called for Mr Assange's head.

In fact, some of the utterances issuing from the mouths of otherwise responsible leaders of the "free world" are at the very least disturbing, if not downright frightening.

For instance, Tom Flanagan, a former advisor to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, has openly declared on TV that Julian Assange should be assassinated. If the names and context were removed, it would be easy to imagine that this was the utterance of a representative of a totalitarian dictatorship.

In the US, Republican congressman Peter King, the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has demanded that Wikileaks be declared a foreign terrorist organisation and there are growing calls from both sides of US politics for Mr Assange to be prosecuted under the so-called Espionage Act.

There are also calls from high places, even from conservative Fox media commentator Bill O'Reilly, for whoever leaked the cables to Wikileaks - alleged to be a conflicted and perhaps mentally unstable lowly US Army private named Bradley Manning - to be executed as a traitor. The same sentiments have been expressed by key conservative Republicans Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, who said Mr Assange should be hunted down and treated like the Taliban.

Whether you believe it was wrong or not to publish these classified documents, there appears to be more than a little hysteria being drummed up by people in the corridors of power over this matter. Even more scary, however, is that these politicians appear to be at least partially successful in enlisting the help of some sections of the free press and law enforcement agencies in their cause to make Mr Assange an international pariah.

CONTINUED

The fact that Mr Assange is on Interpol's most wanted list not because of his Wikileaks activity but because he allegedly had non-consensual sex with two people while in Sweden earlier this year (a charge he denies) raises some serious questions. If the Wikileaks scandal hadn't erupted, would he still be a most wanted international fugitive to be hunted down like a terrorist? It is highly doubtful.

While they bleat out their threats with righteous indignation, these "free world" politicos seem to have overlooked one - and I stress the word seem - inconvenient fact: they are representatives of a democracy where freedom of the press is supposed to be guaranteed.

In Western democracies, we don't brand media publications terrorist organisations unless they actually engage in terrorist activities or finance them. Wikileaks, under Mr Assange, to be sure published some sensitive classified information but, like many news organisations do, it merely published information that it received from another source.

As far as espionage is concerned, it is also hard to see how Mr Assange could be classified a spy. He hasn't, as far as can be determined, stolen classified information and sold it to a foreign government for financial reward. Neither has he presumably paid to receive this information - although that admittedly could be open to question.

And then there is the question of the wider media. Mr Assange and Wikileaks have enlisted the help of the mainstream media in the Western world to broadcast the content of these documents. For their part, the biggest media organisations in the world, including the venerable BBC no less, have been only too willing to broadcast the highly sensitive content of these cables to the wider populace who had never heard of Wikileaks previously.

The irony of it all - not to mention the hypocrisy - is that the mainstream media are having a field day busily making public all the stories that are surfacing from the Wikileaks cables yet not one of them have received so much as a slap on the wrist for helping Wikileaks to massively increase its global reach.

The latest news that Amazon has kicked the Wikileaks site of its US and European servers raises even more questions. Did Amazon, the organisation that had to be forced to stop selling a book on how to practise pedophilia, can Wikileaks in a spontaneous demonstration of its patriotism or was it pressured to do so? How free is the so-called free press of the so-called free world?

Finally, is the world a worse or better place now that the public knows a little a bit more about what the leadership of different countries actually say to each other? That's for you the readers who vote politicians into power to judge.

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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