The persecution of the Wikileaks founder showed that revelations in public interest will be more and more difficult to happen and we will see only leaking of information that benefits political and economic lobbies, says the Bulgarian journalist Philip Burov in an interview for the Iranian Labour News Agency
Philip Burov is an editor in the site “The Barricade”. Among other topics, he has written extensively in the last years on Wikileaks, the Middle East conflicts, the role of Donald Trump in international relations and the drama of the Palestinian people.
This interview was published by the Iranian Labour News Agency on 13 January 2021.
Mr. Burov, Assange’s case has become one of the most important issues in international journalism. How did it get here and did this catastrophe in the field of freedom of expression come about?
WikiLeaks’ revelations in 2010-2011, as well as those made by Edward Snowden in 2013, were a huge blow to the reputation of US geopolitical hegemon – not only because of the crimes that have come to light but also because of the inability of the world’s most powerful secret services to keep their secrets. As a result, a relentless campaign was launched to punish Assange, he and WikiLeaks to be discredited, to discourage any future whistleblowers, as well as to bring the leading media organizations in line. Unfortunately, we can see that this campaign has been very successful. Especially after 2016, WikiLeaks and Assange have become a convenient scapegoat for the political failures of a number of Western governments – such as the electoral upset in the United States and the Catalan crisis in Spain. Even some of the media organizations that published the WikiLeaks and Snowden revelations and had won awards for this have become involved in this smearing campaign. As for the US establishment, Assange found himself between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the liberal establishment used him as an excuse for its political misfortunes, and on the other hand, the Trump administration became even more active and brutal in the repressions against him and other whistleblowers – despite the inexplicable conviction of Trump supporters that this disgraced billionaire is somehow fighting “globalists” and the status quo. The hypocrisy of both sides is staggering. This is how today’s situation comes to be.
A London court judge recently rejected Assange’s extradition to the United States. It seems that the United States will object to this ruling. Can we expect this to have a happy ending, especially since his request for release on bail was rejected?
First of all, it must be pointed out that the London court’s decision is only ostensibly a relief. The judge’s decision simply washed the hands of the UK establishment. It also postponed the question of Assange’s pardon, which probably neither the outgoing Trump administration nor the incoming Biden administration wants to deal with right now. Assange continues to be imprisoned and punished for exposing the war crimes of the governments of Washington and London, his fragile health is still at risk, he continues to be threatened with losing his appeal and being extradited. More importantly, the British court actually agreed with all the allegations of the American prosecution, although their obvious falsity – that Assange is not a journalist, that the publication of secret documents is a crime and it is not in the public interest, and that the persecution against him is not politically motivated. As the independent journalist Jonathan Cook points out, the fact that extradition was refused solely because of Assange’s mental health and the risk of suicide, means in practice that Press freedom is crushed, and dissent is labeled mental illness. This is an extremely dangerous precedent for journalism and freedom of speech in general.
How do you see the future of an organization like WikiLeaks if Assange is released? Is it possible that with the release of Assange, this whistleblower website will stop its activities?
WikiLeaks manages to maintain its activities despite all obstacles and threats. I am convinced that the eventual release of Assange would only benefit the organization. The question is whether there will be enough brave whistleblowers after it was demonstrated how high could be the personal price they will pay. I am also afraid that even revelations on the scale of those of 2010 would provoke much less attention from the leading media and society in today’s environment. This is probably the biggest success of the campaign to discredit WikiLeaks – their publications in recent years – like “Vault 7” or the documents on the OPCW Duma report – provoked a much weaker reaction than they deserve.
Whistleblowers have always been targeted by governments around the world, from John Kiriakou to Chelsea Manning and Snowden. Despite all the emphasis on the need for freedom of expression, why have no comprehensive laws been enacted to protect whistleblowers?
Authorities will never provide principled protection to those who have dared to challenge and expose them – no matter what values they claim to uphold. The protection of whistleblowers will always depend on the commitment of society and the courage of the media. If people who are in a position to disclose important information feel that they will not receive support from their own society, they probably won’t have the courage to do so. The other option is to seek protection abroad, which makes them vulnerable to propaganda attacks that they are traitors and that their revelations are invalid. There are plenty of examples of this around the world. I am afraid that in the foreseeable future, big revelations will come to light mostly in cases where they could be used in the struggle for supremacy between large countries and various powerful groups in the establishment. Publishing information only in the public interest, as WikiLeaks does, will be more difficult and will probably be swept under the carpet by the big media organizations and social networks
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