Julian Assange
Julian Assange: The Champion of Modern Justice, or International Criminal?

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On the 27th of October, the US Government made yet another demand for Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States as he is currently detained in the United Kingdom. 

The US Supreme Court of Justice had already made a demand for Mr Assange’s handover to US authorities in January 2021, however, this was rejected by the UK due to the risk of suicide.

Julian Assange is best known for being the chief editor of the website ‘Wikileaks,’ which published masses of classified United States home and foreign policy documents. One main exposure made by ‘Wikileaks’ was the publication of 700,000 confidential documents on the US military and diplomatic activities during the wars in Iraq (2003-2011) and Afghanistan (2001-2021). 

Notably, this included the murder of civilians by a US military helicopter during the Iraq War in 2007, which caused a massive scandal and stoked the critical global opinion on the unjustified nature of US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In 2017, ‘Wikileaks’ began posting about ‘Vault 7,’ publishing thousands of documents regarding a CIA hacking programme that targeted internet connected devices and even smartphone operating systems. 

Due to the activity of ‘Wikileaks,’ Julian Assange is wanted in a number of US-allied countries. After finding political refuge in the Ecuador embassy in London – in which he spent 7 years – Mr Assange was arrested by British police in 2019. 

If an extradition to America eventually happens, Assange risks a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison, according to the American legal system, for disclosing classified information from the United States intelligence service and for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. 

The high-profile case of Julian Assange has sparked a global debate, including between heads of states, which could bring critical diplomatic discussions about ‘whistle-blowing’ to the forefront of international politics. 

The president of Mexico, Andres Manual López Obrador, spoke in January 2021 about his willingness to offer Mr Assange political asylum. He noted Assange’s quality as a journalist and suggested that he shouldn’t have been imprisoned for merely doing his job and exposing the authoritarian behaviours of a major world power. 

However, some have also suggested that this could just be the Mexican government taking the strategic opportunity to damage the US hegemonic position via their political capital on the international scene, considering the very tense relationship between the two nations. 

On the other hand, some have suggested that this could also be an attempt by the Mexican government to challenge the US hegemonic position by damaging their political capital if the tense relationship between the two nations is brought into consideration. 

The position taken by M. López Obrador embodies the current ongoing debates around whistle-blowers – also referred to as ‘alert launchers’ – in the public space… 

Indeed, individuals like Julian Assange are positioning themselves as guardians of truth, seeking to create a transparency between the state and the people that is otherwise obscured. 

Some argue that they are essential actors in the public space by denouncing governments’ abuse and violation of fundamental human rights; by exposing a government, company or other influential entity, whistle-blowers are acting as champions of certain ethical and moral principles within a liberal democracy. 

Alongside Julian Assange, the most notable historical whistle-blower is Edward Snowden. In 2013, Snowden denounced the NSA’s mass surveillance programme of the American population’s phones and internet communication in the aftermath of 9/11, initially created to uncover terrorist networks. This exposure made the world aware of the surveillance operation and therefore led to the establishment of personal data protection laws: especially on the internet. 

However, not everyone rejoices in the face of these revelations, and the modern debate around whistle-blowers is polarised between those who see the value of transparency and those who suffer due to these kinds of exposure… 

For institutional and intelligence services, whistle-blowing revelations can hinder their ability to work and can even threaten state security. In the case of the US, the 2017 revelations on the CIA espionage techniques forced the American intelligence agency to freeze all their espionage activities at the time, thus posing a threat to US security. 

Additionally, further issues can occur as a result of whistle-blowing practices; some alerts caused by whistle-blowers can attract public attention but are not necessarily verified. 

In 1998, former doctor, Andrew Waskesfield, became famous after publishing a paper in the Lancet medical journal, where he claimed that the Mumps, Measles and Rubella (MMR) vaccine predisposed children to pervasive developmental disorders. 

Without sufficient scientific proof, the paper gained international publicity at a time where many parents believed that the MMR vaccine could cause autism. Resultantly, the rates of MMR vaccination dropped significantly on an international scale. 

At the end of the day, the position of the whistle-blower will likely continue to be contented due to the moral and political line that it walks. However, what is most significant about this sort of information, is that it underlines the need for evidence and truth in order to maintain the status quo where bonafide media providers can pursue their job of holding governments and major bodies accountable and uphold the principles of transparency in a liberal democracy. 

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