Stifling freedom

The arrest by the British police of Julian Assange, founder and editor of WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website which made public thousands of secret US diplomatic cables, on charges of sexual offences is an act of harassment, motivated by vendetta.

The US administration has been greatly embarrassed by the WikiLeaks revelations which exposed the unseemly side of US diplomacy through the cables sent by US embassies. It has been targeting  Assange ever since the first tranche of disclosures hit the world earlier this year. The fresh disclosures, which are still continuing, have done further damage to the reputation and credibility of the US administration and it is now trying to silence the man and the website through coercion and intimidation.

The US is unable to directly act against Assange and therefore it might be using others to harass him. The attempt is to get him extradited to Sweden where the alleged offences took place. It is part of a series of other coercive actions. One of his accounts in a Swiss bank has been shut down with the apparent intention of denying him the ability to raise funds. The main source of income for the website is donations.

Donors are also being harassed by authorities, as a recent instance in Germany shows. There have also been attempts to black out the publication of the documents. Ironically, the persecution of Assange is being directed by the US which claims to be a champion of free speech. The US administration has considered many legal ways of acting against the website, like pressing espionage charges against it. The charge that US national security has been endangered by the leaks is not convincing. The published material has in fact avoided matters that impinge on security or put the lives of individuals at risk.

The moves against the website and its chief can therefore be considered only as an attack on the right to information and an attempt to stifle freedom of expression. They amount to a gross violation of Assange’s human rights. Such campaigns happen only in authoritarian dispensations and it is unfortunate that governments which claim to be open and democratic are parties to them.

The website has refused to be cowed down and has declared that it would go ahead with the publication of the diplomatic cables. It deserves the support of the entire world in the motivated campaign against it and its founder.

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