The arrest of Julian Assange, the controversial founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, sent shock waves across the globe, with many of his supporters calling it an attack on freedom of press and right to publish.
In fact, six public intellectuals from India too have criticised Assange’s arrest and, in a signed statement, called for his immediate release.
The six prominent voices include former editor-in-chief of The Hindu, N Ram; author, Arundhati Roy; former Additional Solicitor General of India, Indira Jaising; former West Bengal Governor and author Gopalkrishna Gandhi; journalist and founder of People’s Archive of Rural India, P Sainath; and historian and author Romila Thapar.
Julian Assange was brusquely carried out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London by the Police on Thursday, 11 April, marking the end of his 7-year-long asylum.
Assange is in custody in London awaiting sentencing for breaching his British bail conditions in 2012 by seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.
Assange has denied the claims of sexual assault and rape in Sweden. The first charge expired in 2015 and the second was dropped in 2017, but the alleged rape victim has now asked for the case to be reopened.
Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno on Sunday, 14 April, defended his decision to overturn Julian Assange's asylum status, claiming in an interview with the Guardian newspaper that the WikiLeaks founder had tried to set up a "centre for spying" in Ecuador's London embassy.
‘Assange’s Journalism Stands for Outrage’
Assange is also fighting a US extradition warrant relating to the release of a huge cache of official documents by WikiLeaks. Assange has been charged with "conspiracy" for working with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password stored on Department of Defence computers in March 2010.
The Indian journalists and writers stated that the significance of Assange and Wikileaks will be missed if they are only considered as a source of large swaths of leaked data. They further stressed that Assange’s journalism stands for outrage against the injustices and atrocities that take place round the world without lacking factuality, substantiation and precision.
The conspiracy charge against Assange seems intended to sidestep limits on prosecution potentially arising from the US Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of press freedom.
The six Indian journalists and writers pointed out that, if the US has charged Assange and Wikileaks for publishing classified material, then the matter is no different from charging The New York Times with publishing the Pentagon Papers- to a top-secret Department of Defense study of U S political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.
If convicted, Assange faces up to five years in jail. Manning passed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, exposing US military wrongdoing in the Iraq war and diplomatic secrets about scores of countries around the world. Manning is behind bars refusing to testify before a federal grand jury.
The six Indian signatories added that, journalists will not be able bring the truth to the surface without right to protect sources and the freedom to publish.