Assange case ‘an attack on truth’: WikiLeaks editor
The editor in chief and spokesman for WikiLeaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, visited Australia in December to lobby journalists and policitians to support Julian Assange in his fight against extradition to the US on espionage charges. While he was here, Hrfansson recorded this interview with MEAA to explain why all journalists should be concerned about the Assange case.
Hrafnsson, who has been in regular contact with Assange while he waits in Belmarsh Prison for his extradition hearing to begin, says it is important that journalists realise the case sets precedents that go well beyond an individual.
Assange, faces up to 170 years in jail if extradited, tried and found guilty of espionage charges laid by the United States government.
Assange, who is an Australian citizen and a member of MEAA Media, has been indicted by the US Justice Department with 18 charges under the Espionage Act for his role in receiving and publishing classified defence documents both on the WikiLeaks website and in collaboration with major publishers including The New York Times, and The Guardian.
The extradition proceedings are scheduled to begin on February 24.
Since Assange’s arrest in April, MEAA has made several representations on his behalf to the Australian and UK governments, urging them to oppose his extradition to the US.
Hrfansson, who is originally from Iceland, has been involved in WikiLeaks for a decade, and took over as editor-in-chief in 2018, the sixth year of Assange’s exile in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which only ended with his arrest in April last year.
Hrfansson says journalists should be gravely concerned about the case against Assange, whatever their personal feelings about WikiLeaks .
“Of the 18 indictments he is facing, 17 are based on the [US] Espionage Act,” Hrafnsson explains. “They are equating journalistic practices with espionage. This has not happened in the 101 years since this law was passed in the United States and it’s now being used with extraterritorial reach.
“[The indictments] give out the signal that no journalist anywhere in the world is safe if he or she is publishing information that is of displeasure to the ‘empire’.
“People can understand that this is a grave attack on their work, the foundation and the basis of their work. Everybody can put himself in those shoes and foresee that at some point if this escalates and if this goes forth, he or she as a journalist could face the same circumstances.
“I can feel that in this country people are seeing that this is something that has to be fought vigorously because if Julian Assange is extradited to face death in a US prison, he is not going to be the last journalist to face that fate.”
The Australian Federal Police raids in the middle of last year on the Canberra home of a News Corp journalist and the Sydney offices of the ABC contributed to a sense that journalism and press freedom is under siege, with striking parallels to the pursuit of Julian Assange.
Hrafnsson believes this has been a factor in the changing mood among Australian journalist towards supporting Assange.
“It can’t be a coincidence that after Julian was dragged in this indecent manner out of the embassy you have seen more and more raids on journalists in America. You’ve seen threats against journalists in Latin America. There is basically universally an attack on truth going on.
“And you’ve seen the evidence of this country. It is part of the same picture.
“And it should unify journalists all around the world, not just behind Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, but behind the right to publish. He is at the moment standing on the edge of the cliff, but all journalists are being slowly pushed slower and slower in the same direction.
“He himself told me in Belmarsh when I visited that the message that he wanted out – and what to say to journalists – basically is ‘this is not about me. This is about you’.
“And that is the core of the matter. And of course, that is seeping in. People understand the gravity and certainly the understanding is increasing. And I hope that will, as I say, unify journalists all around the world in that campaign.”