[intro]When he was 14, a newspaper article on a Wikileaks revelation that showed American soldiers firing on civilians in Iraq, motivated the Werner F. Smith to be a writer and activist. He set about finding out more about Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange.[/intro]
I recall sitting in the quiet TV-room, after Sunday lunch with the family, when my dad came up to me and handed me an article from a weekly Sunday newspaper he thought I would find interesting. I don’t really recall the headline but the image of Julian Assange’s face is still as clear as day in my thoughts. Not wanting my dad to feel like he had made a futile attempt, I proceeded to read the article. I was 14 years old at the time and in that moment I was not at all aware of the impact this would come to have in my coming life.
The article was about the release of footage by WikiLeaks showing American soldiers firing rapidly on civilians from an Apache helicopter. I was reading newspaper articles on a regular basis by then but never felt a proper emotional response towards an article like I did on that Sunday. It left me disgusted but more importantly, I felt motivated. I wanted to write and be an activist. “That is the dream,” I told myself.
I felt compelled to find out more about WikiLeaks and more specifically about the person known as Julian Assange.
Julian Assange has been called everything from a terrorist to the Messiah of the 21st century. To his followers, Assange is a fearless fighter for the truth. To his critics, he is a publicity seeking criminal acting against the state and has put lives in danger by releasing masses of sensitive information into the public domain. Assange has been described by people who has worked with him as “intense, driven and highly intelligent – with an exceptional ability to crack computer codes.”- BBC.
Born in Townsville in the state of Queensland, Australia in 1971 and then traveling with his parents from one town to the next, Assange had a very isolated childhood. The internet gave him the opportunity to be a part of something bigger. He got arrested for hacking activities in 1995 for the first time and soon became known as a hacktivist (activists that use the means of hacking). After the setup of WikiLeaks in 2006 the next headline-making action was the release of a tape showing an American helicopter firing at civilians in Iraq, in April 2010. This changed everything and overnight Assange was seen as a rock star of sorts. People loved him and the media fell over their feet trying to get some Assange for their own publications.
Later that year he was detained in the UK after Swedish officials issued an international arrest warrant relating to an alleged sexual assault. These claims are still open for debate but some of the actual charges have been dropped since then. There is still a rape charge that remains. This was, in my opinion, just another smear campaign formulated by some government officials to find a way to stop Assange from publishing more sensitive material for the world to see.
The modern battle for freedom and justice
After living under house arrest in a small rural town in England for a few months, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court approved the extradition against Assange in February 2011, a ruling that was later upheld by the High Court. This drove Assange to seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he currently still resides after being granted political asylum by Ecuador.
The acts of Julian Assange poses a lot of philosophical, political and humanitarian questions. He is highly regarded in the modern battle for freedom and justice and is even depicted in paintings with half of his face being replaced by a Guy Fawkes mask – the universal symbol for fighting against any and all abusing positions of power.
This symbol is also seen as the official logo of the hacktivist group Anonymous, also being highly involved in the Free Assange campaign, and numerous others alike.
A number of moral and ethical questions come to mind when one starts evaluating the Julian Assange and WikiLeaks phenomena. The uncensored releasing of documents and information on such a massive scale could bring harm to innocent people, is the argument made by most people not supporting this cause. However, I am inclined to disagree. The remarkable work done by these individuals must be seen as totally unprecedented and critically important in this day and age. We should always fight for our right to know. No government should ever be allowed to sweep information under any carpet, not to even mention the murder of innocent civilians or the tampering with election results.
To conclude: Julian Assange is not without mistakes or above criticism. He is human. But I strongly believe that he will be remembered as one of the greatest minds of the 21st century. What lies ahead for him is unclear. There can be no doubt that he is in the crosshairs of a number of very powerful people. But the ideals that the name Assange has become synonymous with will live on forever.
Some information used in this article is based on a BBC news article. Read it here.