All it needs for evil to flourish is for people of good will to do nothing. - Edmund Burke
We understand from news reports overnight that Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks has presented himself to UK police and been arrested over sexual assault claims in Sweden. We call on the government to ensure that Assange is afforded the proper support, security and representation due to an Australian citizen facing charges overseas.
Due to the nature of the #cablegate leaks recently published by Wikileaks, Assange has become a target for angry, fearful and vengeful politicians and powerbrokers who have been subject to embarrassing and damaging leaks of information.
While loud voices overseas are clamouring, quite literally, for Assange’s blood and for the closure of Wikileaks, Australia must stand firm and adhere to the basic principles which frame our democracy - including the rule of law, the presumption of innocence and the protection of speech.
Any legal action against Assange or Wikileaks must be kept free from political motivations or interference and any charges laid against Assange must be founded in law, based on fact and exercised in a public court.
We agree with those who have called on the Prime Minister to speak out against the death threats being made against Julian Assange, and we would also ask the government to guard against any extra-judicial action being taken against him, or against Wikileaks.
Australia will send a dangerous message to potential whistleblowers about our reluctance to protect our citizens who publish unpopular truths if our government does not take immediate action to stop the continued persecution of Assange and Wikileaks.
While the internet is radically changing the way information can be shared between citizens and across borders, what hasn’t changed is the need for nations to protect those who perform acts of journalism and whistleblowing.
Whistleblowing is not illegal, nor is publishing leaked documents from whistleblowers. Whistleblowing is a legitimate way for citizens to reveal corruption and illegal activity. Like journalism, it is a tool for upholding democracy and speaking truth to power.
It would be as unjust to punish Wikileaks for publishing leaked documents as it would be to punish the newspapers which have published stories about those leaks. We note with concern that just such action is being contemplated in the US, where the actions of Wikileaks and the New York Times are being described by some as “espionage”.
It is of grave concern that in recent years, we have seen countries, including our allies, invoking extra-judicial measures in the name of democracy. We must resist this trend. Extra-judicial measures do not protect democracy, they undermine it.
While another outlet, or many outlets, would replace Wikileaks should it be shut down, Australia’s participation in the censorship or closure of Wikileaks would set a dangerous precedent for silencing citizens and critics of the state.
We call on the Prime Minister to retract her description of Wikileaks as “illegal”, which we believe is a statement without basis in law. We refer to the statement made by Senator George Brandis, the opposition's legal affairs spokesperson, who told The Age ‘‘As far as I can see he [Mr Assange] hasn’t broken any Australian law, nor does it appear he has broken any American laws."
Australians showed that they want the rights of their fellow citizens abroad protected in their support for the protection and return home of David Hicks. We must afford Julian Assange all the protections due to our citizens abroad, and resist attempts by foreign governments to overstep his rights. We must not let Julian Assange become the next David Hicks. And we must show our commitment to free speech by protecting the whistleblowing website, Wikileaks.
- The EFA Board