Menu Menu

Julian Assange’s case to define the future of whistleblowing

The case of Julian Assange has taken the media by storm igniting bombshell debates from the public to governments.

Julian Assange became a prominent figure in the press when he made classified information public via WikiLeaks. Established in 2006, WikiLeaks has become a powerhouse for previously unknown information, causing significant headaches for governments.

Assange was granted asylum by the Ecuadorian embassy in London during 2012, because he feared being extradited to Sweden following two separate allegations of sexual assault.

However, in 2019, after a series of exposés involving the Ecuadorian government, the nation’s president, Moreno, accused Assange of several security breaches, and the Metropolitan police proceeded with his arrest.

Notable leaks

Prominent leaks by the organisation revolve around various governments and appalling actions ranging from human rights violations to war crimes and corruption.

Throughout the years, the platform has garnered support with some calling it an opportunity to change the ways of the media.

Nonetheless, the US has always been one to publicly voice its distaste for WikiLeaks claiming that it sought to do harm to the American establishment security-wise.

The American detest stems from a major leak involving the Baghdad Airstrike ‘Collateral Murder’ video in 2010 – wherein airstrikes killed several Iraqi citizens with two Reuters journalists. After that, war logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars were released, and then Cablegate.

Cablegate included classified military correspondence between the US and its emissaries. Following this, the American government officially launched a criminal investigation against the activities of WikiLeaks in 2010. This wouldn’t stem the flow of disclosures, however.

In 2016, the organization released emails from the Democratic party that are speculated to have fuelled Hillary Clinton’s loss in the election. The following year saw the platform leak the Vault 7 CIA files depicting the alarming hacking capabilities of the agency.

Assange’s future

As of now, Assange is currently awaiting extradition as he sits in Belmarsh Prison, London. The case built by the US government sees him being charged under the Espionage Act.

The Act prohibits the disclosure of classified information to unauthorized persons. Assange is charged with 17 counts of such an offence with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. He is also charged with a count of computer intrusion which carries a far harsher maximum charge of 175 years in prison.

With Assange being a native to Australia, the involvement of the Australian government comes as no surprise. However, some have accused the Australian government of abandoning Assange and failing to do enough to protect his rights. Others argue preventing any geopolitical tensions should take precedence.

Australian officials state that they are committed to ensuring Assange is treated fairly and that his rights are respected while conceding that it cannot interfere in the legal process of the UK or US.

In 2023, the Australian government called on the US to drop the charges against Assange. It argued that the charges are politically motivated and that Assange’s prosecution would set a dangerous precedent for press freedom.

The US government has defended the charges, however, arguing that Assange put lives at risk by publishing classified information.

The future of journalism 

Joe Biden’s ploy to extradite Assange has been criticised as being hypocritical, with his constituency discrediting Assange’s credentials as a journalist to justify a prior deceleration that ‘Journalism wasn’t a crime.’ 

As a country that has long preached about the sanctity of free speech, such contradictory actions have caused trepidation among journalists fearing the future of their jobs.  

Before her passing, Vivienne Westwood, who joined a protest outside court, stated that there was nothing wrong with Assange publishing alleged war crimes in the name of democracy. Yet, both sides of the debate present valid points.

Those who feel democratic freedoms are under threat point to the fact that a reporter has never before been charged under the ambiguous terms of the Espionage Act. Furthermore, the information published was in the public’s interest and helped to hold governments accountable. 

On the other hand, it’s understandable that people may be concerned about threats to national security. Classified information was open to be viewed by anyone – including America’s foes – and Assange didn’t take precautions to protect the identity of whistleblowers involved. 

Governments have long tried to suppress information they believe could be detrimental to their interests, but the internet and social media has made accessing and leaking such information to the public far easier. 

The ongoing battle between Julian Assange and the American government may take time to resolve and it surely will leave many journalists anxiously waiting to see how their future will be defined.