The arrest of Mr. Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikilleaks over the release of thousands of leaked classified diplomatic cables, is undemocratic, and Western governments run a risk of bringing to disrepute the very core of what they represent.
“Why is Mr. Assange in prison? Is this democracy?” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin asked at a press conference, adding that it contradicted the West’s avowed democratic values.
Brazil’s President Lula has also criticized other governments for failing to condemn the arrest: “They have arrested him and I don’t hear so much as a single protest for freedom of expression”, President Lula told reporters at a public event in Brasilia.
Many in the academia and governmental structures believe Mr. Assange’s arrest is undemocratic. Law experts and analysts have condemned the vilification of Mr. Assange and eloquently debunked every argument made against Mr. Assange and his Wikileaks.
Following the release of the classified diplomatic cables, New York Congressman Pete King called for the US Attorney General to name Wikileaks a terrorist organization and to prosecute its founder Mr. Assange for espionage.
Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law, noted in a BBC article that no single US law makes it a crime specifically to disclose classified government documents.
Schoenfeld also pointed out that the Espionage Act of 1917 would require prosecutors to prove Mr. Assange was aware the leaks could harm US national security, or show he had a hand in improperly obtaining them from the government, which is difficult to prove.
“That act is a difficult act to prosecute people under, especially someone who might be considered a journalist, as he would argue he is,” Schoenfeld was quoted as saying.
Also, Jennifer Elsea, a legal researcher for the US Congress, argued that a law that punishes the theft of government records or property has never been used to prosecute recipients of the information.
“Leaks of classified information to the press have only rarely been punished as crimes, and we are aware of no case in which a publisher of information obtained through unauthorized disclosure by a government employee has been prosecuted for publishing it,” Elsea argued.
Mr. Assange is a journalist afforded free speech protections under the US constitution – and would have a strong defense, if extradited to the U.S.
“There appears to be no statute that generally proscribes the acquisition or publication of diplomatic cables,” Elsea added.
Jacques Semmelman, a New York lawyer and authority on extradition law, also rebutting US legal right over Mr. Assange’s publications, added that espionage is seen as a political crime, and political offences are not subject to extradition under the US-UK, US-Sweden and UK-Sweden treaties.
Also, the Espionage Act does not apply to foreign nationals acting outside of US territory.
U.S. Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton called Mr. Assange’s publications an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conventions and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.
Anatol Lieven, professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College, London said not much has emerged that had not already been leaked to the media in one form or another by US diplomats, to serve either US agendas or battles over policy in Washington.
Agreeably, some of the details revealed are absorbing however they only extend what most electorates knew already. Therefore to call the publications an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conventions and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity is farfetched.
Harold Koh, US state department legal adviser, wrote in a letter to Wikileaks, revealed by the Washington Post that the most recent document dump “could place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals” as well as “ongoing military operations”.
Koh accused Wikileaks of endangerment “without regard to the security and the sanctity of the lives your actions endanger”.
Many US authorities have classified Mr. Assange as a threat to national security.
Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell told the Washington Post in August after Wikileaks published more than 75,000 secret US military documents on the war in Afghanistan: “We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the Wikileaks documents.”
As many experts have pointed out, there is no proving direct links between the information released and any loss of life.
Carne Ross, a former UK diplomat at the United Nations, told reporters that the effects of Wikileaks were largely unknowable at this point.
“I don’t think it has been proven that this is dangerous to US troops, for instance. I haven’t seen that case made very clearly. What I think this means is that we need to look at our own mechanisms for democratic accountability and foreign policy. We need to be much, much better,” Ross was quoted.
Analysts say Wikileaks have taken care to exclude anything that can endanger specific US agents or actions.
There is a need “for confidentiality in diplomacy – so that diplomats can express candid views to their home governments without fearing that they will be spread all over the media.”
Secretary of Defence Robert Gates was quoted in an article published by the Washington Post that the leaked diplomatic cables were embarrassing but would have only “modest” consequences for US foreign policy.
According to Lieven the argument that there is a “need” for confidentiality in diplomacy is overshadowed by the fact that we are after all supposed to be democracies, and our electorates have the democratic right to know more than they have done in recent years about the conduct of their government’s foreign policy, adding that there is far too much misinformation and outright lying.
Indeed we can agree that the leaks could strain international relations and possibly create a more dangerous world, subsequently making it more difficult for diplomats and human intelligence operatives to do their jobs.
Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the BBC: “They [Wikileaks] embarrass governments with which the US co-operates. At the very least, they will make governments like Pakistan and Yemen and others, which are collaborating with the US in the battle against terrorism, more reluctant to co-operate.”
Based on these arguments, US authorities made it clear they would prosecute Mr. Assange.
Mr. Assange was arrested in Britain, and after a long battle the London High Court has granted him a £240,000 (about US $375,000) bail. He is now awaiting extradition proceedings.
He was detained in the UK over alleged sex offences in Sweden. These alleged crimes comprise one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation, and one count of rape. The offences are alleged to involve two women and to have taken place in August 2010. Mr. Assange denies the allegations.
“The [chief prosecutor] will look into that later. She hasn’t been able to do that, but that’s not enough for being arrested. It’s not a serious enough crime,” communications head at Sweden’s prosecutors’ office, Karin Rosander, had said when the sexual allegations were made in August.
“I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape”, chief prosecutor Eva Finne confirmed later.
As he awaits extradition to Sweden, Mr. has argued that the whole process reveals “some disturbing aspects of Europe (…) For example, that any person in any European country can be extradited to any other European country without the provision of any evidence whatsoever.”
Mr. Julian Assange has informed the electorate of the hocus pocus of government deals, stunts and practices: These democracies accuse him of standing for transparency, and shedding light on what some might call the darkness of government.
What Mr. Assange has done is stir up debates, and opened up cans of worms in our democracies. And rather than vilify, persecute and ostracize him, democratic governments ought to examine themselves, their politics and their edicts with regard for the electorate, freedom of expression, national security and the people’s right to know.