Assange in Copenhagen
|Born||3 July 1971 
Townsville, Queensland, Australia
|Occupation||Editor-in-chief and spokesperson forWikiLeaks|
Julian Paul Assange ( /əˈsɒnʒ/ ə-sonzh; born 3 July 1971) is an editor, activist, political talk show host, computer programmer, publisher, and journalist from Australia. He is best known as theeditor-in-chief and founder of WikiLeaks, a media website which has published information from whistleblowers. The site acts as a conduit for worldwide news leaks, with a stated purpose of creating open governance.
Assange was a hacker-activist in his youth, before becoming a computer programmer and then becoming internationally renowned for his work with WikiLeaks. He has lived in several countries and has made public appearances in many parts of the world to speak about freedom of the press, censorship, and investigative journalism. He has received numerous awards and nominations, including the 2009 Amnesty International Media Award, Readers’ Choice for TIME magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year, the 2011 Sydney Peace Foundation gold medal and the 2011 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.
Following a European Arrest Warrant issued for Assange in relation to allegations in Sweden of rape and sexual assault, and a failed appeal in Britain against extradition to Sweden, Assange broke his bail conditions on 19 June 2012 to enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London requesting political asylum on the grounds that he was being persecuted. Ecuador granted Assange asylum on 16 August 2012. However, the British government has said that they will arrest him once he leaves the embassy, and have stated that one of their laws allows them to enter the building to arrest him.
Assange was born in Townsville, Queensland, and is a “a sixth-generation Australian”. His mother, Christine Ann Assange (née Hawkins), was the daughter of Australian Army World War II veteran, academic, and principal of Northern Rivers College (Southern Cross University), Warren Alfred Hawkins, who was born in Sydney, New South Wales, and Norma Joan Hawkins (née Carelton), who “was a specialist in medieval literature”.
In an interview with Robert Manne, Assange said that his “biological father” is named John Shipton, and that they did not meet “until he was 25″. Manne writes: “strangely and perhaps revealingly, it [WikiLeaks] was registered under the names of two fathers, his biological one, John Shipton, and his cypherpunk political one, John Young, a New York architect who ran the intelligence leak website Cryptome, which could be seen as WikiLeaks’ predecessor.” John Shipton is also referred to as an “architect” and an “Australian citizen living in Kenya”, who resided in Nairobi, Kenya in 2008 at the same time as Assange. He “met Assange’s mother, Christine, then aged 17, at an antiques shop on his way to a Vietnam war demonstration … little is known about the relationship, except that it had ended by the time of their son’s first birthday – if not earlier”; Shipton “never took up residence or if he did only took up residence for a very short time” and “had no contact with [Assange]“.
His mother, Christine, married theatre director Richard Brett Assange, son of George Franklin Assange and Patricia Lavinia Assange (née Glasson), when Julian was one year old. The name Assange is an anglicization of “Ah Sang”, Cantonese for “Mr. Sang”. In 1976, the family moved to Magnetic Island, where Christine had previously resided. They lived in Horseshoe Bay, on an old, abandoned pineapple farm. Later, Assange and his mother lived in a cottage at Picnic Bay.
During Assange’s upbringing Brett and Christine Assange ran a touring theatre company. In the mid-1970s, Assange and his parents moved to North Lismore, New South Wales, and Assange attended Goolmangar Primary School in the nearby town of Goolmangar from 1979 to 1983.
In 1979, his mother remarried “Leif Meynall – or Leif Hamilton”; her new husband was a musician whom Assange believed belonged to a New Age group calledThe Family, led by Yoga teacher Anne Hamilton-Byrne. The couple had a son, but broke up in 1982 and engaged in a custody struggle for Assange’s half-brother. His divorced mother fled her boyfriend and travelled across Australia, taking both children into hiding for the next five years. Assange moved thirty times before he turned 14, attending many schools, including Goolmangar Primary School, sometimes being home-schooled. In an interview conducted by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Assange stated that he had lived in 50 different towns and attended 37 different schools. When questioned by Robert Manne, he clarified that the 37 schools he has attended include those he attended for only a single day. Manne reported a statement that Assange had been officially enrolled in 12 of those schools. He and his mother “by the time he was 16 or 17″ lived in “a tiny cement bungalow in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne“, Victoria, first in the town of “Emerald and then Tecoma“, now in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
Hacking and conviction
In 1987, after turning 16, Assange began hacking under the name “Mendax” (derived from a phrase of Horace: “splendide mendax”, or “nobly untruthful”). He and two other hackers joined to form a group they named the International Subversives. Assange wrote down the early rules of the subculture: “Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information”.The Personal Democracy Forum said he was “Australia’s most famous ethical computer hacker.” The Australian Federal Police became aware of this group and set up “Operation Weather” to investigate their hacking. In September 1991, Mendax was discovered in the act of hacking into the Melbourne master terminal ofNortel, the Canadian telecommunications company. In response the Australian Federal Police tapped Assange’s phoneline and subsequently raided his Melbourne home in 1991. He was also reported to have accessed computers belonging to an Australian university, the USAF 7th Command Group in the Pentagon and other organisations, via modem. It took three years to bring the case to court, where he was charged with 31 counts of hacking and related crimes. Nortel said his incursions cost them more than $100,000. Assange’s lawyers represented his hacking as a victimless crime. In May 1995 he pleaded guilty to 25 charges of hacking, after six charges were dropped, and was released on bond for good conduct with a fine of A$2,100. The judge said “there is just no evidence that there was anything other than sort of intelligent inquisitiveness and the pleasure of being able to—what’s the expression—surf through these various computers” and stated that Assange would have gone to jail for up to 10 years if he had not had such a disrupted childhood.
Family and child custody issues
In 1988–1989, Assange married, then moved out and started living with his wife, after they had a son. They split up before the period of Assange’s arrest and conviction. They subsequently engaged in a lengthy custody struggle and did not agree on a custody arrangement until 1999.
The entire process prompted Assange and his mother to form Parent Inquiry Into Child Protection, an activist group centred on creating a “central databank” for otherwise inaccessible legal records related to child custody issues in Australia. In an interview with ABC Radio, his mother explained their “most important” issue was demanding “that there be direct access to the children’s court by any member of the public for an application for protection for any child that they believe is at serious risk from abuse, where the child protection agency has rejected that notification.”
Computer programming and other employment
In 1993, Assange was involved in starting one of the first public internet service providers in Australia, Suburbia Public Access Network. Starting in 1994, he lived in Melbourne, where he worked on developing free software and programming. In 1995, he wrote Strobe, the first free and open source port scanner.He contributed several patches to the PostgreSQL project in 1996. He helped to write the book Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier (1997), which credits him as a researcher and reports his history with International Subversives. Starting around 1997, he co-invented the Rubberhose deniable encryption system, a cryptographic concept made into a software package for Linux designed to provide plausible deniability against rubber-hose cryptanalysis; he originally intended the system to be used “as a tool for human rights workers who needed to protect sensitive data in the field.” Other free software that he has authored or co-authored includes the Usenet caching software NNTPCache and Surfraw, a command-line interface for web-based search engines. In 1998, “Assange co-founded his first and only Australian company, Earthmen Technology”. Assange was characterised as a “cryptographer” in a Suelette Dreyfus article published in The Independent, 15 November 1999 – “This is just between us (and the spies)”, and was said to have been the moderator of “the online Australian discussion forum AUCRYPTO”, and during this time Assange claimed to have found a new patent relating to the US National Security Agency’s technology for monitoring calls, “while investigating NSA capabilities”. Assange said that “this patent should worry people. Everyone’s overseas phone calls are or may soon be tapped, transcribed and archived in the bowels of an unaccountable foreign spy agency”. In 1999, he registered the domain leaks.org, but he says he “didn’t do anything with it.”
From 2002 to 2005, Assange attended the University of Melbourne and University of Canberra as an undergraduate student, he started a Bachelors of Science degree, studying physics, pure mathematics, and briefly philosophy and neuroscience, but he did not graduate. There are four passing grades in the Australian university system — “pass”, “credit” or “merit”, “distinction” and “high distinction”; in most of his maths courses, he received “pass” (50-65%). The fact that his fellow students were doing research for Pentagon’s DARPA was reportedly a factor in motivating him to drop out and start WikiLeaks.
Career as head of WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks was founded in 2006. That year, Assange wrote two essays setting out the philosophy behind WikiLeaks: “To radically shift regime behaviour we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not.” In his blog he wrote, “the more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie…. Since unjust systems, by their nature, induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”
Assange is the most prominent media spokesman on WikiLeaks’ behalf. In June 2010, he was listed alongside several others as a member of the WikiLeaks advisory board. While newspapers have described him as a “director” or “founder” of WikiLeaks, Assange has said, “I don’t call myself a founder”; he does describe himself as the editor in chief of WikiLeaks, and he has stated that he has the final decision in the process of vetting documents submitted to the site. Assange says that WikiLeaks has released more classified documents than the rest of the world press combined: “That’s not something I say as a way of saying how successful we are – rather, that shows you the parlous state of the rest of the media. How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined? It’s disgraceful.” He advocates a “transparent” and “scientific” approach to journalism, saying that “you can’t publish a paper on physics without the full experimental data and results; that should be the standard in journalism.” In 2006, CounterPunch called him “Australia’s most infamous former computer hacker.” The Age has called him “one of the most intriguing people in the world” and “internet’s freedom fighter.” Assange has called himself “extremely cynical”. He has been described as being largely self-taught and widely read on science and mathematics, and as thriving on intellectual battle.
WikiLeaks has been involved in the publication of material documenting extrajudicial killings in Kenya, a report of toxic waste dumping on the coast of Côte d’Ivoire,Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay procedures, the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike video, and material involving large banks such as Kaupthing andJulius Baer among other documents. In 2008, Assange published an article entitled “The Hidden Curse of Thomas Paine”, in which he wrote “What does it mean when only those facts about the world with economic powers behind them can be heard, when the truth lays naked before the world and no one will be the first to speak without payment or subsidy?”
Public appearances and residency
Though an Australian citizen, Assange has not lived in Australia since he left after he started work on WikiLeaks. In 2007 Assange moved to Nairobi, Kenya, he then also spent time in Tanzania, stayed in Cairo, Egypt for a week, Paris, France and Wiesbaden, Germany for two months at the end of 2008, He appeared at the hacker conference, the 25th and 26th Chaos Communication Congress in Germany He was in Linz, Austria for the Ars Electronica in September 2009 andBarcelona, Spain for the Personal Democracy Forum in November 2009 and at media conference New Media Days ’09 in Copenhagen, Denmark.He began renting a house in Iceland on 30 March 2010, from which he and other activists, including Birgitta Jónsdóttir, worked on the Collateral Murder video. He was in San Francisco, California, United States, for the Logan Symposium in Investigative Reporting at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in April 2010, then in Oslo, Norway for the Oslo Freedom Forum, 26–29 April, before he returned to Australia in June 2010 On 21 June 2010, he took part at a hearing in Brussels, Belgium, appearing in public for the first time in nearly a month. He was a member on a panel that discussed Internet censorship and expressed his worries over the recent filtering in countries such as Australia. He also talked about secret gag orders preventing newspapers from publishing information about specific subjects and even divulging the fact that they are being gagged. Using an example involving The Guardian, he also explained how newspapers are altering their online archives sometimes by removing entire articles. He told The Guardian that he does not fear for his safety but is on permanent alert and will avoid travel to America, saying “[US] public statements have all been reasonable. But some statements made in private are a bit more questionable.” He said “politically it would be a great error for them to act. I feel perfectly safe but I have been advised by my lawyers not to travel to the US during this period.”
On 17 July, Jacob Appelbaum spoke on behalf of WikiLeaks at the 2010 Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) conference in New York City, replacing Assange due to the presence of federal agents at the conference. He announced that the WikiLeaks submission system was again up and running, after it had been temporarily suspended. Assange was a surprise speaker at a TED conference on 19 July 2010, in Oxford, and confirmed that WikiLeaks was now accepting submissions again. On 26 July, after the release of the Afghan War Diary, he appeared at the Frontline Club for a press conference. Later in July 2010 he was inLondon, United Kingdom, then in August in Stockholm, Sweden, before returning to London, where he was imprisoned.
In the first half of 2010, he appeared on Al Jazeera English, MSNBC, Democracy Now!, RT, and The Colbert Report to discuss the release of the Baghdad airstrike video by WikiLeaks. On 3 June he appeared via videoconferencing at the Personal Democracy Forum conference with Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg told MSNBC“the explanation he [Assange] used” for not appearing in person in the US was that “it was not safe for him to come to this country.” On 11 June he was to appear on a Showcase Panel at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Las Vegas, but there are reports that he cancelled several days prior.
On 10 June 2010, it was reported that Pentagon officials were trying to determine his whereabouts. Based on this, there were reports that US officials wanted to apprehend Assange. Ellsberg said that the arrest of Bradley Manning and subsequent speculation by US officials about what Assange may be about to publish “puts his well-being, his physical life, in some danger now.” In The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder called Ellsberg’s concerns “ridiculous”, and said that “Assange’s tendency to believe that he is one step away from being thrown into a black hole hinders, and to some extent discredits, his work.” In Salon.com, Glenn Greenwaldquestioned “screeching media reports” that there was a “manhunt” on Assange underway, arguing that they were only based on comments by “anonymous government officials” and might even serve a campaign by the US government, by intimidating possible whistleblowers.
In October 2010, his application for a residency permit was denied in Sweden.
On 4 November 2010, Assange told Swiss public television TSR that he was seriously considering seeking political asylum in neutral Switzerland and moving the operation of the WikiLeaks foundation there.
In late November 2010, Kintto Lucas, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ecuador, spoke about giving Assange residency with “no conditions… so he can freely present the information he possesses and all the documentation, not just over the Internet but in a variety of public forums”. Lucas believed that Ecuador may benefit from initiating a dialogue with Assange. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño stated on 30 November that the residency application would “have to be studied from the legal and diplomatic perspective”. A few hours later, President Rafael Correa stated that WikiLeaks “committed an error by breaking the laws of the United States and leaking this type of information… no official offer was [ever] made.” Correa noted that Lucas was speaking “on his own behalf”; additionally, he will launch an investigation into possible ramifications Ecuador would suffer from the release of the cables.
In December 2010, it was reported that US Ambassador to Switzerland Donald S. Beyer had warned the Swiss government against offering asylum to Assange, citing the arrest warrant issued by Interpol.
In a hearing at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 7 December 2010, Assange identified a post office box as his address. When told by the judge that this information was not acceptable, he submitted “Parkville, Victoria, Australia” on a sheet of paper. His lack of permanent address and nomadic lifestyle were cited by the judge as factors in denying bail. He was ultimately released, in part because journalist Vaughan Smith offered to provide Assange with an address for bail during the extradition proceedings, Smith’s Norfolk mansion, Ellingham Hall. He lived there for a year, then moved out in December 2011 to a “3,000-acre estate in East Sussex” – “a lodge on Lord Abergavenny‘s Eridge Park estate, near Tunbridge Wells“.
On 14 February 2011, Assange filed for the trademark “JULIAN ASSANGE” in Europe. The trademark is to be used for “public speaking services; news reporter services; journalism; publication of texts other than publicity texts; education services; entertainment services”. On 15 March 2011, Assange gave a speech at theCambridge Union Society. After initially discouraging recording, a video of this has been made available by the Society.
On 19 February 2012 the 500th episode of The Simpsons, ”At Long Last Leave,” was aired, which features Assange guest-starring as himself in a scene written by Australian author Kathy Lette, the wife of Assange’s adviser Geoffrey Robertson QC.
Release of US diplomatic cables
On 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks began releasing some of the 251,000 American diplomatic cables in their possession, of which over 53 percent are listed asunclassified, 40 percent are “Confidential” and just over six percent are classified “Secret“. The following day, the Attorney-General of Australia, Robert McClelland, told the press that Australia would inquire into Assange’s activities and WikiLeaks. He said that “from Australia’s point of view, we think there are potentially a number of criminal laws that could have been breached by the release of this information. The Australian Federal Police are looking at that”. McClelland would not rule out the possibility that Australian authorities will cancel Assange’s passport, and warned him that he might face charges should he return to Australia. The Federal Police inquiry found that Assange had not committed any crime.
The United States Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation related to the leak. US prosecutors are reportedly considering charges against Assange under several laws, but any prosecution would be difficult. In relation to its ongoing investigations of WikiLeaks, on 14 December 2010, the US Department of Justiceissued a subpoena ordering Twitter to release information relating to Assange’s account, amongst others.
The WikiLeaks diplomatic cable revelations have been credited by some commentators with being a factor in sparking the Tunisian Revolution, as such leaked cables revealed the degree of corruption in the then ruling government. Writing for Foreign Policy magazine, journalist Elizabeth Dickinson suggested that “Tunisians didn’t need any more reasons to protest when they took to the streets these past weeks – food prices were rising, corruption was rampant, and unemployment was staggering. But we might also count Tunisia as the first time that WikiLeaks pushed people over the brink…”
On 6 December 2010, the Swiss bank, PostFinance, announced that it had frozen assets of Assange’s totalling 31,000 euros, because he had “provided false information regarding his place of residence” when opening the account. MasterCard, Visa Inc., and Bank of America also halted dealings with WikiLeaks. Assange described these actions as “business McCarthyism”. The English-language Swedish newspaper web-site “Local” quoted Assange on 27 December 2010, as saying that legal costs for the whistleblowing website and his own defence had reached £500,000. The decisions to halt donations to WikiLeaks by Visa, MasterCard and PayPal had cost £425,000, the same amount it costs the website to publish for six months. Assange said WikiLeaks had been receiving as much as £85,000 a day at its peak, before the financial blockade
In December 2010, Assange sold the publishing rights to his proposed autobiography for over £1 million. He told The Sunday Times that he was forced to enter the deals for an autobiography because of the financial difficulties he and the site encountered, stating “I don’t want to write this book, but I have to. I have already spent £200,000 for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat.”
A draft of this work was published, without Assange’s consent, in September 2011. The book was ghostwritten by Andrew O’Hagan and was given the title Julian Assange – The Unauthorised Autobiography (2011). Assange and the publisher, Canongate, gave differing accounts of the circumstances around the publication.
Support and criticism around the world
Comments by the Australian government
The publication of Australian government briefings after a Senate request showed the government had privately discussed charging Assange with treason, which they never mentioned publicly. Julia Gillard stated that Assange’s actions were “illegal”, which was later retracted when an Australian Federal Police commission determined he had not broken any Australian laws. They also found no grounds to withdraw his Australian passport after an investigation by the Australian Federal Police. Since then, government representatives and the major opposition, including Craig Emerson the Minister for Trade and Helen Coonan the former minister for Communications, have made statements supportive of WikiLeaks and deprecated some threats. Emerson stated on ABC’s Q&A program; “We condemn absolutely the threats that have been made by some people in the United States against Julian Assange and he deserves all of the rights of being an Australian citizen.”
These supportive statements by the Australian government have complicated Assange’s attempts to seek political asylum. Under international legal principles, a refugee must have a “well-founded fear of being persecuted” in his home country.
Support from Australians
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has come under widespread condemnation and a backlash within her own party for failing to support Assange after calling the leaks “an illegal act” and suggesting that his Australian passport should be cancelled. Hundreds of lawyers, academics and journalists came forward in his support with Attorney-General Robert McClelland, unable to explain how Assange had broken Australian law. Opposition Legal Affairs spokesman, Senator George Brandis, aQueen’s Counsel, accused Gillard of being “clumsy” with her language, stating, “As far as I can see, he (Assange) hasn’t broken any Australian law, nor does it appear he has broken any American laws.” Former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who supports Assange, stated that any decision to cancel the passport would be his, not Gillard’s.
Queen’s Counsel Peter Faris, who acted for Assange in a hacking case 15 years ago, said that the motives of Swedish authorities in seeking Assange’s extradition for alleged sex offences are suspect: “You have to say: why are they [Sweden] pursuing it? It’s pretty obvious that if it was Bill Bloggs, they wouldn’t be going to the trouble.” Following the Swedish Embassy issuing of a “prepared and unconvincing reply” in response to letters of protest, Gillard was called on to send a message to Sweden “querying the way charges were laid, investigated and dropped, only to be picked up again by a different prosecutor.”
On 10 December 2010, over 500 people rallied outside Sydney Town Hall and about 350 people gathered in Brisbane where Assange’s lawyer, Rob Stary, criticised Julia Gillard’s position, telling the rally that the Australian government was a “sycophant” of the United States. A petition circulated by GetUp!, which has placed full page ads in support of Assange in The New York Times and The Washington Times, received more than 50,000 signatures.
American response to Afghan war logs
Despite withholding some 15,000 incident reports for “safety reasons,” thousands of documents in the Wikileaks Afghan war log do identify Afghans by name, family, location, and ideology. The Taliban issued a warning to Afghans, alleged in the log to have worked as informers for the NATO-led coalition, that “US spies” will be hunted down and punished, indicating they will investigate the named individuals before deciding on their fate.
Asked what he thought of the dangers to those families created by the release of their personal information, Assange claimed that many informers in Afghanistan were “acting in a criminal way” by sharing false information with NATO authorities. He insisted that any risk to informants’ lives was outweighed by the overall importance of publishing the information.
Current and former US government officials have accused Assange of terrorism. When asked if he saw Assange more as a high-tech terrorist or as a whistleblower, like those who released the Pentagon papers in the 1970s, US Vice President Joe Biden said: “I would argue it is closer to being a high-tech terrorist than the Pentagon papers.” In May 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had used the phrase, calling Assange “a high-tech terrorist”, and saying “he has done enormous damage to our country. I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”. Also in May 2010, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said: “Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism. He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”
In July 2010, after WikiLeaks released classified documents related to the war in Afghanistan, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, said at a Pentagon news conference, “Disagree with the war all you want, take issue with the policy, challenge me or our ground commanders on the decisions we make to accomplish the mission we’ve been given, but don’t put those who willingly go into harm’s way even further in harm’s way just to satisfy your need to make a point. Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is, they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.” Assange responded later in an interview by saying, “There is, as far as we can tell, no incident of that. So it is a speculative charge. Of course, we are treating any possible revelation of the names of innocents seriously. That is why we held back 15,000 of these documents, to review that”. Assange also claimed it was ‘ironic’ of US officials and military leaders to accuse him of having blood on his hands.
Calls for Assange’s assassination
On 30 November 2010, Tom Flanagan, a former aide to the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, called for Assange’s assassination. Mr. Flanagan later retracted his comments, after a Vancouver lawyer filed a complaint with the Calgary Police against Harper, and Canadian nationals filed complaint with the ombudsman of CBC news.
On 1 December 2010, Republican Mike Huckabee called for those behind the leak of the cables to be executed, a view partly supported by Kathleen McFarland, former Pentagon advisor under Nixon, Ford and Reagan and current Fox News national security expert.
On 6 December 2010, during a segment of the Fox Business show Follow The Money, Fox News political commentator and analyst Bob Beckel stated, “A dead man can’t leak stuff. This guy’s a traitor, he’s treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States. [...] And I’m not for the death penalty, so [...] there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.” Other guests on the program agreed.
Assange responded on the Guardian newspaper website, to a reader’s question about Flanagan’s remarks, by contending that “Mr. Flanagan and the others seriously making these statements should be charged with incitement to commit murder.”
Members of US Congress call for Espionage Act prosecution (of Assange)
On 29 November 2010, Rep. Peter King, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking that Assange should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917, and that he should be declared a terrorist. The same day, Rep. King also wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, requesting that she designate Wikileaks as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
- “I am calling on the attorney general and supporting his efforts to fully prosecute Wikileaks and its founder for violating the Espionage Act. And I’m also calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare Wikileaks a foreign terrorist organization,” King said on WNIS radio on Sunday evening
- “By doing that, we will be able to seize their funds and go after anyone who provides them help or contributions or assistance whatsoever,” he said. “To me, they are a clear and present danger to America.”
On 30 November 2010, on Fox News, Rep. King repeated his assertions that Wikileaks was a terrorist organization; he continued to repeat these assertions on other news media channels for the following week.
On 2 December 2010, Senator Feinstein and Senator Kit Bond, (respectively, the) Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence(SSCI), sent a joint-letter to Attorney General Holder, asking him to prosecute Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act [18 U.S.C. 793(e)], offering to “close those gaps in the law” if the DOJ found it difficult to apply the law to Mr. Assange’s case. In televised interviews Senators Bond and Feinstein stated that:
- “We believe that Mr. Assange’s conduct is espionage and that his actions fall under the elements of this section of law….Therefore, we urge that he be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.”
Punishments under the Espionage Act can include the death penalty.
Support in the United States
Daniel Ellsberg, who was working in the US Department of Defense when he leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, was a signatory to a statement by an international group of former intelligence officers and ex-government officials in support of Assange’s work, which was released in late December 2010. Other signatories includedDavid MacMichael, Ray McGovern, and five recipients of annual Sam Adams Award: Frank Grevil, Katharine Gun, Craig Murray, Coleen Rowley and Larry Wilkerson. Ellsberg has said, “If I released the Pentagon Papers today, the same rhetoric and the same calls would be made about me … I would be called not only a traitor – which I was [called] then, which was false and slanderous – but I would be called a terrorist… Assange and Bradley Manning are no more terrorists than I am.”
Response from other countries and the United Nations
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, then president of Brazil, expressed his “solidarity” with Assange following his 2010 arrest in the United Kingdom. He further criticised the arrest of Assange as “an attack on freedom of expression“.
Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister of Russia, condemned Assange’s detention as “undemocratic”. A source within the office of Russian President Dmitry Medvedevsuggested that Assange be nominated for a Nobel Prize, and said that “Public and non-governmental organisations should think of how to help him.”
In December 2010, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank LaRue, said that Assange or other WikiLeaks staff should not face criminal charges for any information they disseminated, noting that “if there is a responsibility by leaking information it is of, exclusively of the person that made the leak and not of the media that publish it. And this is the way that transparency works and that corruption has been confronted in many cases.”
Assange has been a member of the Australian journalist union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, for several years, and in 2011, was made an honorary member. Alex Massie wrote an article in The Spectator called “Yes, Julian Assange is a journalist”, but acknowledged that “newsman” might be a better description of Assange. Alan Dershowitz said “Without a doubt. He is a journalist, a new kind of journalist”. Assange has said that he has been publishing factual material since age 25, and that it is not necessary to debate whether or not he is a journalist. He has stated that his role is “primarily that of a publisher and editor-in-chief who organises and directs other journalists”.
Assange received the 2009 Amnesty International UK Media Award (New Media), for exposing extrajudicial assassinations in Kenya by distributing and publicizing the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)’s investigation Kenya: The Cry of Blood – Extra Judicial Killings and Disappearances. and he has been recognized as a journalist by the Centre for Investigative Journalism. Accepting the award, Assange said, “It is a reflection of the courage and strength of Kenyan civil society that this injustice was documented.”
In 2010, Assange was awarded the Sam Adams Award, Readers’ Choice in TIME magazine’s Person of the Year poll, and runner-up for Person of the Year. In April 2011 he was listed on the Time 100 list of most influential people. An informal poll of editors at Postmedia Network named him the top newsmaker for the year after six out of 10 felt Assange had “affected profoundly how information is seen and delivered”.
Le Monde, one of the five publications to cooperate with WikiLeaks’ publication of the recent document leaks, named him person of the year with fifty six percent of the votes in their online poll.
In February 2011, it was announced that Assange had been awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation gold medal by the Sydney Peace Foundation of the University of Sydney for his “exceptional courage and initiative in pursuit of human rights.” There have been four recipients of the award in the foundation’s fourteen year history:Nelson Mandela; the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso; Daisaku Ikeda; and Assange.
In June 2011, Assange was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. The prize is awarded on an annual basis to journalists “whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth that exposes establishment propaganda, or ‘official drivel’”. The judges said, “WikiLeaks has been portrayed as a phenomenon of the hi-tech age, which it is. But it’s much more. Its goal of justice through transparency is in the oldest and finest tradition of journalism.”
In November 2011, he was awarded the 2011 Walkleys Award in the category Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism. The annual Walkley Awards honour excellence in journalism and the Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, awarded since 1994, recognises commitment and achievement in the Australian media.
Allegations of sexual assault
In 2010, a European Arrest Warrant was issued for Assange in response to a Swedish police request for questioning in relation to a sexual assault investigation. Assange voluntarily attended a police station in England on 7 December 2010, and was arrested and taken into custody. After ten days in Wandsworth prison, Assange was freed on bail with a residence requirement at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, England, fitted with an electronic tag and ordered to report to police daily. Assange appealed a February 2011 decision by English courts to extradite him to Sweden, saying the allegations were “without basis”. On 2 November 2011 the High Court upheld the extradition decision and rejected all four grounds of appeal presented by Assange’s legal representatives. Costs of £19000 were also awarded against Assange.
On 20 August 2010, Swedish police began an investigation into allegations concerning Assange’s behaviour in separate sexual encounters involving two different women. Assange has described all the sexual encounters as consensual. The arrest warrant was canceled on 21 August 2010 by one of Stockholm’s chief prosecutors, Eva Finne, as the investigation was downgraded to only cover lesser charges, and re-issued by Swedish Director of Prosecution Marianne Ny on 1 September 2010 who considered that the allegations could be classed as rape. In December 2010, Assange, then in Britain, learned that the Swedish authorities had issued a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) to extradite him to Sweden for questioning.
According to published reports, the charges Sweden has lodged against Assange involve two different women. Their initial intention was reportedly to force Assange to take an HIV test. There are four charges: that on 14 August 2010 he committed “unlawful coercion” when he held complainant 1 down with his body weight in a sexual manner; that he “sexually molested” complainant 1 when he had condom-less sex with her after she insisted that he use one; that he had condom-less sex with complainant 2 on the morning of 17 August while she was asleep; and that he “deliberately molested” complainant 1 on 18 August 2010 by pressing his erect penis against her body.
On 2 March 2011, his lawyers lodged papers at the High Court challenging the ruling to extradite Assange to Sweden. After a hearing on 12 and 13 July 2011, the High Court reserved its judgment, and on 2 November 2011, dismissed his appeal. On 5 December 2011 Assange’s lawyers were granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, after the High Court certified that a point of law of general public importance, that ought to be considered by the Supreme Court, was involved in its decision. The certified question was whether a prosecutor can be a judicial authority. The Supreme Court heard argument in the appeal on 1 and 2 February 2012. and reserved its judgment, while Assange remained on conditional bail. On 30 May 2012 the court dismissed the appeal by a majority of 5–2. The court granted Assange two weeks to make an application to reopen the appeal after his counsel argued the judgments of the majority relied on an interpretation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which was not argued during the hearing.
Assange’s lawyer in Britain, Mark Stephens claimed the charges in Sweden are just a ‘holding case’ while the US prepares its prosecution over Wikileak’s activities. He said Assange could face extradition or illegal rendition to the US from Sweden where he could be detained in a high-security prison and face the death penalty. Stephens said he believed Swedish officials were cooperating with US authorities.
Request for political asylum
On 19 June 2012, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, announced that Assange had applied for political asylum and that the Ecuadorian government was analysing his request. He also told local media that Assange was in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The Metropolitan Police Service stated that he was in breach of one of the conditions of his bail and could therefore be lawfully arrested. Ecuador was required by international law to consider his application, but some extradition experts contended that he might have to show that he was being persecuted in his home country, Australia. On 23 June, Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, recalled his Ambassador to the UK back to Quito, to discuss the situation. On June 24, Assange said he would go to Sweden if provided with a diplomatic guarantee that he would not be turned over to the US.
On 15 August, Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño stated that Britain threatened to storm his country’s London embassy to arrest Assange. At a press conference Patiño said, “Such actions would be a blatant disregard of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of the rules of international law of the past four centuries. It would be a dangerous precedent because it would open the door to the violation of embassies as a declared sovereign space.” The UK’s position was that it was simply informing Ecuador of the legal position in the UK under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, which allows the UK government to determine what land is considered to be diplomatic or consular premises. The 1987 Act permits the revocation of diplomatic status of a building if the foreign power occupying it “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post…if doing so [the revocation] is permissible under international law”. However, section 1(5) arguably limits loss of diplomatic status to “material considerations, and in particular” to public safety, national security and town and country planning. Lawyers for Ecuador could argue that sheltering Assange is not a material consideration as it does not interfere with the workings of the embassy. Ecuadorian officials at the embassy offered to allow Swedish prosecutors to question Assange in the London embassy. However, this offer was refused by the Swedish authorities.
On 16 August 2012, the Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño stated in a press conference that the Ecuadorian government was granting Assange political asylum. Patiño cited concerns that Assange might be extradited to the US, allowing him to be executed. Patiño claims that Sweden has refused to rule out the extradition of Assange if it were requested by the United States. Ecuador also called a meeting of the Organisation of American States to gather support for its position. The Foreign Office stated that it was “disappointed” at Ecuador’s decision and that it remained under a binding agreement to extradite Assange to Sweden in spite of the decision taken by Ecuador. On 16 August, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the UK will not allow Assange safe passage out of the country.
The World Tomorrow interview program
In January 2012, WikiLeaks announced that Assange would launch “a series of in-depth conversations with key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries from around the world”, titled The World Tomorrow. The first of twelve completed interview programs was broadcast by the Russian state-run RT network on 17 April with other networks expected to follow. The series is broadcast on a weekly basis and the 26-minute episodes are being made available online. The show’s first guest was Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Political and economic views
According to Assange, “It’s not correct to put me in any one philosophical or economic camp, because I’ve learned from many. But one is American libertarianism,market libertarianism. So as far as markets are concerned I’m a libertarian, but I have enough expertise in politics and history to understand that a free market ends up as monopoly unless you force them to be free.”
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Julian Assange wins Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, journalism.co.uk at 2 June 2011
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Note: Julian Assange’s website, iq.org, is currently unavailable. The following link points to an archived version (from 2007).
Collections of News Articles
- Julian Assangecollected news and commentary at The Guardian
- Julian Assangecollected news and commentary at The New York Times
- Profile: Wikileaks founder Julian Assangeat BBC News
Works By Julian Assange
- Works by or about Julian Assangein libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Works by Julian Assangeat Project Gutenberg
Interviews and Talks
- Julian Assangeat TED
- Frost Over the World – Julian Assange – December 2010.Al Jazeera English via YouTube
- Interview with Julian Assange on release of Afghan war files – 1 August 2010Russia Today via YouTube
- Julian Assangeinterviewed by John Pilger on New Statesman January 2011
- Julian Assange: The “60 Minutes” Interviewinterviewed by Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes January 2011.
- Interview Julian Assange. Frontline. 4 April 2011.