The champion of free speech, the crusader for freedom of expression, the figurehead for freedom of information – behold Julian Assange.
Today, however, could he also be given the label of hypocrite?
The founder of the legendary Wikileaks is currently on an extended ‘holiday’ in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, battling to avoid extradition to Sweden where he faces allegations of rape and sexual assault.
Assange fears that if he is deported to Sweden he could then be moved on to the United States where the consequences could be severe. Just yesterday Bradley Manning, who is currently detained in the US for allegedly passing on state secrets to Wikileaks, faced a military court in Maryland where he was accused of passing information on to a “very definite place" that he knew was used by the enemy. If convicted he could face the death penalty.
But quite why, out of all the countries in the world, Assange chose to seek sanctuary in Ecuador is beyond irony. Given all that he stands for, Ecuador is hardly the best nation to pick.
Today, Amnesty International has released a report on freedom of speech and the right to protest in Ecuador. It paints a very bleak picture indeed.
The report, ‘So that no one can demand anything’ Criminalising the right to protest in Ecuador, accuses the Ecuadorian authorities of organising a co-ordinated campaign to clamp down on the right to freedom of expression.
It explores the stories of 24 indigenous and campesino leaders and in all 24 cases Amnesty believes the authorities have been using the judicial system in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to prevent them from protesting against projects that will affect their environment and lands.
They have been targeted with unfounded charges, arbitrary arrests and strict bail conditions simply for campaigning against laws and policies on the use of natural resources.
Hardly the beacon of freedom of speech that Assange and Wikileaks have championed over the years.
For us in the media team, the situation in Ecuador is one that desperately needs the oxygen of publicity. But with the papers awash with the Olympics it’s proving a difficult task. So I wonder whether Assange and Wikileaks would be brave enough to help us expose Ecuador’s crackdown on the very rights that they are supposed to champion? Then perhaps the accusation of hypocrite could be removed from Assange.
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