Published in The Huffington Post UK, 17 August 2012
A storm of diplomatic sound and fury has broken over Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. The UK government has threatened to breach all diplomatic protocol and international law and go into the embassy to arrest Assange.
The UK justifies this by citing the 1987 Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act, a law apparently put in place following the 1984 shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher from the Libyan Embassy in London. The murder resulted in an 11-day siege, and the embassy staff eventually being expelled from the country. Nobody has yet been brought to justice for this murder.
It is hard to equate the gravity of the crime that brought about the 1987 legislation – the murder of a policewoman – with Assange’s situation. Despite the screaming headlines, let us not forget that he is merely wanted for questioning in Sweden. Nevertheless, the UK is prepared to overturn all diplomatic protocol and create a dangerous international precedent to “get their man”, despite there being a clear lack of justification under the terms of the ’87 Act.
Many people in the western media remain puzzled about Assange’s fear of being held captive in the Swedish legal system. But can we really trust Swedish justice when it has been flagrantly politicised and manipulated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well documented. Indeed, the Swedish justice system has the highest rate per capita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flouting Article 6 — the right to a fair trial.
If Assange were extradited merely for questioning by police — he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden — there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the legal terms of a “temporary surrender”. And in the US, a secret Grand Jury has been convened in Virginia to find a law — any law — with which to prosecute Assange. Hell, if the Yanks can’t find an existing law, they will probably write a new one just for him.
So why all the sound and fury? What is this really all about?
Wikileaks is a ground-breaking new form of high-tech, award-winning journalism that has exposed corrupt practices across the world over the years. And crucially, in this war-torn, weary and financially broken world, it offers a secure conduit to whistleblowers who want to expose institutional crime and corruption for the public good.
Whistleblowers want to get their information out there, they want to make a difference, they want a fair hearing, and they don’t want to pay too high a personal price for doing so. Is that too much to ask?
By going public about serious concerns they have about their workplace, they are jeopardising their whole way of life: not just their professional reputation and career, but all that goes with it, such as the ability to pay the mortgage, their social circle, their family life, their relationship… Plus, the whistleblower can potentially risk prison or worse.
So, with these risks in mind, they are certainly looking for an avenue to blow the whistle that will offer a degree of protection and allow them to retain a degree of control over their own lives. In the old days, this meant trying to identify an honourable, campaigning journalist and a media organisation that had the clout to protect its source. While not impossible, that could certainly be difficult, and becomes increasingly so in this era of endemic electronic surveillance.
Today the other option is a secure, high-tech publishing conduit such as Wikileaks. This provides anonymity and a certain degree of control to the modern whistleblower, plus it allows their information to reach a wide audience without either being filtered by the media or blocked by government or corporate injunctions.
As someone who has a nodding acquaintance with the repercussions of blowing the whistle on a secret government agency, I have long seen the value of the Wikileaks model – and I also understand quite why governments feel so threatened by it. After all, no government or mega-corporation wants freedom of information and transparency forced upon it, nor an informed citizenry questioning its actions.
Our governments like to spout the phrase “if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide” as they roll out yet another intrusive surveillance measure.
Wikileaks has turned that right back at them – hence this modern-day witch-hunt.