[Editorial Analysis Arresting Julian Assange

Mains Paper 2 : International

Prelims level : Julian Assange

Mains level : Free speech

Context

• British police on Thursday arrested Wikileaks’ 47-year-old Australian founder and publisher Julian Assange on the less-than-sensational charge of skipping bail.

• This has triggered, for good reasons, a global debate on the future of free speech and whistle-blowers.

• The way Assange was arrested inside the Ecuador Embassy in London, right after the Latin American country revoked the political asylum it had granted the anarchic activist in 2012 when he was charged with sexual assault, points to an element of political motivation.

• The US which wants to try Assange under its laws for allegedly assisting Army private Chelsea Manning to hack into a government computer and steal classified data and for publishing on WikiLeaks information illegally accessed from Hillary Clinton’s campaign computers — has swiftly unsealed a 2015 indictment against Assange.

Reason behind his arrest

• WikiLeaks, for all its blemishes, showed the world, its governments and mighty institutions that their acts cannot always be concealed; digital technologies empower civilians to break into their vaults and unearth secrets.

• This prospect has prompted governments to be more circumspect in their acts, businessses to be more transparent, and citizens to demand more accountability from the institutions they deal with.

• Wikileaks, by airing US diplomatic conversations, has unravelled a new world of geopolitics to the commoner, forcing a level of political correctness on the diplomatic front.

• His arrest can give vested interests an undue advantage at a time when civil liberties are under stress in many countries, including the US, China, Russia and India.

• Governments have come down on Assange, anchoring on disparate charges to jail him, since they are not able to prove or even classify properly his alleged major crimes.

• This arrest will, however, send a threatening message to potential whistle-blowers.

• This does not augur well for democracies and civil society activism.

Conclusion

• Assange has always maintained that he was a journalist (publisher of WikiLeaks) and hence his actions come under the purview of media freedom.

• His methods are perceived to be in sync with the methods journalists across the globe would use to expose corruption, misuse of authority and criminality.

• To be fair, Assange’s ways of using the wrong ends of digital technology to obtain classified data has imperilled news gathering by traditional media and even denied them access to information which was otherwise accessible as regimes went paranoid after the exposes of the likes of WikiLeaks.

• Still, there is no reason to believe that the actions of WikiLeaks were against the greater common good.

• Assange’s arrest could imperil fair media practices in major democracies, including India.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements.

1 . It is a UNESCO designated World Heritage site.

2. It was once a Silk Road hub.

3. It was in news due to its recapturing by state arm
terror groups.

4. It had been under Roman rule in ancient history.

The above may refer to?

a) Henchir-Bez

b) Palmyra

c) Colosse

d) Gunela

Correct Answer: B

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Julian Assange’s detention marks yet another setback to free speech and transparency. Comment.

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