In the past few days, it might’ve been mentioned on the news that one Julian Assange has been arrested in the UK. You may have seen pictures of a stubborn Assange being removed from the Ecuadorian embassy, despite his protests. At the same time, footage of him posing the V sign while being driven off is just as ubiquitous in the media. To be honest, I’ve shown limited interest in what Assange and his Wikileaks group has done over the past decade. I’ve never directly accessed his site and I currently don’t have any intentions of doing so. So why the sudden interest? For starters, Assange is from Australia. Second, I do not condone the UK police’s action in this case, as it is an affront to the free press.
I first encountered Wikileaks during one of my classes at uni. Our professor told us that the site has leaked highly classified documents on the US war on terror. Censorship permitting, she showed footage of American soldiers murdering defenceless Afghan women. We came to know Bradley Manning, the alleged conveyor of the x files. A year later, she told me that Manning has been arrested. She likewise stated that someone has released a manifesto. Ex-President Barrack Obama handed Manning a tough sentence, showing the world that they would not take this betrayal sitting down. On the very last day of his time in office, Obama absolved Manning of all his sins. Chelsea was free to leave.
A few more years later, a classmate told us that he regularly checks out Assange’s testimonials on the site. At this time, Assange has been relegated to the Ecuadorian embassy in London. There were police stationed at the door, ready to pounce as Sweden had a case pending against him. Assange changed his look over the years, from a number three hairdo to a beard to his usual medium-length do. What couldn’t change was how he had to do all his work from the embassy, as venturing out would be problematic. The Ecuadorians put up with him, but instead of repaying their trust, he continued to leak confidential files. He was putting them in an unenviable situation, a zero-sum game. I was surprised that they were able to put up with him for many years. Alas, his luck ran out.
There would be no discussion of Assange without touching on Edward Snowden. They are both visionaries, some would even call them heroes. Wikileaks strives to expose what the governments want to seal forever. They have the right intentions in their essence, offering light when there is little. However, the means by which they go about this business is not right. For instance, why would they keep changing their domain name to avoid getting shut down? Why do they have to surreptitiously steal these files? They found the perfect catch in Edward Snowden, the erstwhile NSA employee who took from the gods and revealed the pretenses hiding beneath their cloaks. He introduced us to a world of deception and keeping tabs unlike any other. Snowden has chosen the right place to hide too. Tensions between Uncle Sam and Russia are shivering cold so it is the perfect hideout if you ever needed one. It’s also the biggest country on Earth, so even though half of it receives too much snow, it’s vast enough to offset that. Who could forget the airport fiasco, where Snowden was trapped for weeks, until Russia relented? Let’s also not forget that Snowden got himself an Oscar for his trouble.
Australia has maintained that it will not give Assange any special treatment. This did not raise any eyebrows, as politicians here have nothing to gain by helping him. Lending a hand would also not sit well with their allies. While being tried for a bail charge in the UK, Assange faces potential extradition to the Land of the Free. Being handed over to the Feds means that he would likely cop it like Manning: a long jail term. However, such a scenario could take a while to occur. His lawyers in the Union Jack could cause major delays, so prolonged that the White House might have new occupants after the fact.
Whether Assange is a hero, a traitor, or an ingrate, this does not excuse the actions of the UK police. They have been stationed outside the Embassy as though Assange committed a heinous felony. Even when the Swedish dropped their charges a few years ago, the British did not blink. This is like sports when defences do not make a play on the ball: it’s foul, it’s ludicrous, it ain’t right. Instead, we see Assange giving speeches in the balcony, posting testimonials online. He gets his ‘sunshine’ from the light on his lamp. When he looks down from his window, the uniforms are there. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? In this case, from the very start, Assange has been guilty until proven innocent. The day when the police finally nabbed him in London was a sad day for investigative journalism in general. While I didn’t wish that Assange had more time, I believe that a light had flickered and died. I hope that though oppression and mass surveillance may continue, so would the tide of opposition against it.