(CD Op-ed) — Over 7 months have passed since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was deprived of his ability to communicate with the outside world in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he was granted asylum with the risk of extradition to the US, relating to his organization’s publications. Recently, after UN Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression and Refugees visited the country, it appeared that Ecuador would finally end this isolation of its refugee and own citizen, which Human Rights Watch general counsel described as being similar to solitary confinement.
Yet, injustice on Assange continues. President Lenin Moreno who was said to partially restore Assange’s communication, now with a special protocol, imposes prison-like surveillance and restriction on his free speech. Under the new rules, Assange is banned from expressing opinions that are considered political or could interfere with Ecuador’s relationship with other nations. Journalists, lawyers and anyone else who seek to visit Assange are required to disclose their private details including email accounts and links to their social media, which then will be shared with UK authorities.
On Monday, a judge in Ecuador ruled against the suit filed by WikiLeaks lawyer, the former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon who argued that this Ecuadorian government’s inhumane treatment of Assange violates his basic human rights. This came while there is an increasing pressure from the US on Ecuador to evict Assange. Joining the aggression of the Trump administration, members of the US Congress urge the Ecuadorian President to persecute Assange, calling him a ‘dangerous criminal’ and a ‘threat to global security’.
Assange has become a high profile Western dissident. He has been arbitrarily detained for 6 years without charge, deprived of fresh air, sunshine and an access to a proper medical care. What made him be considered dangerous by the most powerful government in the world? WikiLeaks has published material that exposed the crimes and corruptions of governments and institutions. Their disclosure of secret documents challenged those in power. But this is not the only reason that made him become an enemy of the state. He has been silenced and attacked because of a particular voice he carries that is critical for a future of our civilization.
Ghandian Struggle for the Oppressed
Assange, an Australian born computer programmer and journalist, together with a small group of dedicated people, launched a media outlet that radically altered the face of modern journalism. He is not just an excellent journalist or an editor in chief of a publisher that performs its job better than other media organizations. Over the years, through his work with WikiLeaks, Assange has become a champion of the oppressed, regarded as a hero around the world, especially by those who live under authoritarian and oppressive regimes, where human right abuses are rampant.
At its inception, WikiLeaks was conceived with aspiration of human civilization to better itself, which was manifested in common people’s desire for liberation. In his Oslo speech in 2010, where he spoke in front of an audience who was just about to witness a huge tide shift in the media landscape, Assange articulated the organization’s vision and its goal of achieving justice. He made it clear that the aim of WikiLeaks is to create intellectual records of how civilization actually works in practice, and by using that knowledge to stop abuse before it happens.
As the whistleblowing site has blazed into a mainstream spotlight with a series of sensational publications, Assange never wavered in his commitment to justice and ordinary people’s struggle for freedom. Until before he was cut offline, from a tiny room in the embassy, he spoke in defense of Catalans’ non-violent resistance against Spanish Central government’s abuse of their democratic rights. He called their peaceful self-determination in the face of police brutality “the most disciplined Gandhian project since Gandhi” and said that “its results will spread everywhere.”
In a sense, WikiLeaks has become a modern embodiment of the Gandhian project. Almost a century ago, Mohandas Gandhi, a spiritual and political leader led India’s independence from Britain. For Gandhi’s time, it was the colonial rule of the British Empire that his people fought against. Now, this old empire’s ambition for domination is carried on by American hegemony. It is this unaccounted Western power that WikiLeaks came to confront through a trove of original source documents with a pristine record of accuracy.
Cryptography as a Weapon for Non-Violent Resistance
So, how does WikiLeaks make itself become a modern day Gandhian project? Gandhi put the principle of non-violence at a center of his efforts. He wanted to end wars and state abuse of power, not by the methods of oppressors, perpetuating further violence, but with different means. For this, he employed a non-violent civil disobedience as a way for people to engage in the peaceful resistance against injustice.
Now, in this digital age, WikiLeaks revived this Gandhian tradition of peaceful resistance online at a global scale. Assange saw potential in cryptography to offer a way for common people to non-violently resist the domination of powerful states. He once articulated the potent revolutionary force inherent in cryptography:
“Cryptography can protect not just the civil liberties and rights of individuals, but the sovereignty and independence of whole countries, solidarity between groups with common cause, and the project of global emancipation. It can be used to fight not just the tyranny of the state over the individual but the tyranny of the empire over smaller states.”
Specifically, with creative application of cryptography, Assange enabled a free speech right in a form that is resilient to government censorship and restriction. In the colonization of the past, the empire’s aggression was naked, where people who were oppressed by colonial masters were able to see their savagery and brutality. Now, the beast inside civilization hides its claws behind a façade of democracy and conspires to bring humanity down in secret.
Permissionless free speech that has been distributed across the Internet offered ordinary people a non-violent democratic weapon to combat against the patronage network that tries to control people through deception and secrecy. An invention of an online anonymous secure drop box made it possible for people anywhere in the world, regardless of their jurisdiction, to expose governments’ wrongdoing and corruption of institutions, without fear of political retaliation. They then could stop violence and mitigate the harm inflicted by those in power.
Pursuit of Truth Through Scientific Journalism
Gandhi has shown the world the effectiveness of his non-violence in opposing oppression. He characterized the revolutionary force inherent in his peaceful method with the term “satyagraha (from the Sanskrit for ‘truth-force’)” (as cited in Dear, 2002, p. 19). He noted satyagraha means “resisting untruth by truthful means” (p. 22) as well as “‘steadfast, nonviolent direct action for truth’ and ‘nonviolent civil disobedience’” (p. 83).
With the creation of WikiLeaks, Assange made an investigative journalism into a platform for pursuit of truth. He firmly believed that for justice to prevail, people ought to have an accurate knowledge about how the world works. He once noted, “If we are to produce a civilized society, a more just society, it has to be based upon the truth.”
In his engagement of people in this search for truth, Assange recognized how the media has become not a purveyor of truth, but of lies, actively promoting and defending the force that violates and destroys truth. Speaking in defense of the disclosure of classified US military documents on the Iraq War, Assange pointed out how “most wars that are started by democracies involve lying,” and noted how “the start of the Iraq war involved very serious lies that were repeated and amplified by some parts of the press.”
WikiLeaks, with its method of transparency steadily upheld a doctrine of satyagraha. Through scientific journalism, Assange found a way to resist governments’ perversion of truth by truthful means. Full archives of the original source material countered media propaganda that works to distort truth through censorship, omission and manipulation of information.
Sword of Love
Gandhi reminded how “realizing Truth ‘means realizing that all human beings are one” (as cited in Dear, 2002, p. 84). For him, justice meant to restore this truth. Calling a person who is dedicated to truth a satyagrahi (p. 89), Gandhi noted how “the sword of the satyagrahi is love and the unshakable firmness that comes from it” (p. 93). For his fight for justice, Gandhi voluntarily submitted himself to suffering, being imprisoned and in the end was assassinated.
This Gandhi’s fierce commitment to truth ignited the minds and hearts of revolutionaries, inspiring movements for civil rights around the world. Political leader Nelson Mandela took up a sword of satyagrahi to bring unity between blacks and whites in South Africa. By uncovering the truth of human rights violations that had occurred during apartheid, he facilitated the country to attain restorative justice. The leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his stride toward freedom for African Americans, surrendered himself to the ethics of love to combat racist laws. Just like Gandhi who was willing to suffer for his cause, both out of their own volition chose to engage in speech and an action that would bring consequence. Mandela was being put on a US terrorist watch list and served 27 years in prison. Dr. King was put into jail and shot dead.
Similarly, WikiLeaks derives its courage from ordinary people around the world who are willing to take great risk on behalf of truth. What drives WikiLeaks scientific journalism is inspiration of its sources—their love for humanity, manifested in their concern for their fellow men and women that transcend nationality, color of skin and language. On April 5, 2010, with the publication of the collateral murder video, the sword of satyagrahi once again struck a chord on the Internet. The conscience of whistleblower Chelsea Manning cut through deception, shedding light on human affairs that were kept in the dark.
In uncensored images of modern war that depicted a US Army helicopter gunship killing innocent civilians in New Baghdad, American people were able to see the real face of those who are made into enemies, being kept on the other side of the barrel of the gun held in their name. Manning’s compassionate account of this forbidden landscape, seen from a perspective of not either American or Iraqis, but from a view of humanity opened up a vantage point of equality, where we were able to recognize our shared humanity and truly witness atrocities and violation of human rights committed by the powerful. For this courageous act to restore truth, she was condemned, being tortured and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Give Peace a Chance
With the work of WikiLeaks, Assange took up a Gandhian tradition of peaceful resistance, instigating a worldwide non-violent movement on the Internet. Through publishing full archives, the organization made it possible for ordinary people to directly connect with the source of legitimacy and begin a quest for truth that has so long been obstructed by the media that functions as a gatekeeper of power.
WikiLeaks opened a path of redemption for our civilization. By enabling free speech rights, this Gandhian investigative journalism restored the laws of peace, helping people reconnect with the true impulse behind enlightenment ideas. The idea of free speech brought a departure from the old rule of the jungle and its logic of might and conquest. It made it possible for humanity to learn to solve problems through dialogue and diplomacy rather than violence.
As released documents began illuminating the way of peace, a shadow of a colonial past grows to resist this new light emanating from the conscience of ordinary people. In 2012, a small country of South America showed enormous courage to stand up to protect the journalist who was seeking refuge from Western governments’ persecution. Now, the US with the UK and Spain rekindles old colonialism, bullying this sovereign nation of Ecuador to go outside both international and Ecuador’s own constitutional law to act subservient to its power.
Recently, Ecuador indicated that it would no longer intervene in diplomatic talks with Britain on behalf of Assange. As the former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa has spoken, there is a grave concern that his successor will hand over Assange to the British authorities. The UK government, by ignoring the UN ruling that indicated Assange’s situation at the embassy as arbitrary detention, refuses to give assurance that they will not extradite him to the US.
Assange is a revolutionary of our times. He sacrificed his liberty in order to give civilization a chance. He now has become a world-renowned political prisoner. Just as his forerunners who fought for emancipation were attacked by the empire states, he has been subjected to a political persecution at a scale that has never been seen before. In a tiny room of an embassy under heightened security, he now quietly suffers in solitude, fighting against character assassination that is now slowly turning into a real murder.
When the justice system is controlled in the hands of oppressors, justice of this founder of the publisher of last resort relies on the court of public opinion. As Julian Assange’s plight for freedom intensifies, we can remain silent, allowing tragedy brought upon all those legendary peacemakers to repeat itself. Or, we can act with moral courage to end oppression and change the course of history. Will humanity find strength to claim its own dignity to open democracy? Or, will crudeness and barbarianism take over, bringing a society into despotism? Future of civilization rests on each individual’s ability to seek in love to unite with those who struggle for the rights of ordinary people. Now it is up to us to carry out this great work of justice and realize the truth of liberty and equality for all people.