Over 7 months have passed since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was deprived of his ability to communicate with the outside world in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he was granted asylum with the risk of extradition to the US, relating to his organization’s publications. Recently, after UN Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression and Refugees visited the country, it appeared that Ecuador would finally end this isolation of its refugee and own citizen, which Human Rights Watch general counsel described as being similar to solitary confinement.
Yet, injustice on Assange continues. President Lenin Moreno who was said to partially restore Assange’s communication, now with a special protocol, imposes prison-like surveillance and restriction on his free speech. Under the new rules, Assange is banned from expressing opinions that are considered political or could interfere with Ecuador’s relationship with other nations. Journalists, lawyers and anyone else who seek to visit Assange are required to disclose their private details including email accounts and links to their social media, which then will be shared with UK authorities.
On Monday, a judge in Ecuador ruled against the suit filed by WikiLeaks lawyer, the former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon who argued that this Ecuadorian government’s inhumane treatment of Assange violates his basic human rights. This came while there is an increasing pressure from the US on Ecuador to evict Assange. Joining the aggression of the Trump administration, members of the US Congress urge the Ecuadorian President to persecute Assange, calling him a ‘dangerous criminal’ and a ‘threat to global security’.
Assange has become a high profile Western dissident. He has been arbitrarily detained for 6 years without charge, deprived of fresh air, sunshine and an access to a proper medical care. What made him be considered dangerous by the most powerful government in the world? WikiLeaks has published material that exposed the crimes and corruptions of governments and institutions. Their disclosure of secret documents challenged those in power. But this is not the only reason that made him become an enemy of the state. He has been silenced and attacked because of a particular voice he carries that is critical for a future of our civilization.
Ghandian Struggle for the Oppressed
Assange, an Australian born computer programmer and journalist, together with a small group of dedicated people, launched a media outlet that radically altered the face of modern journalism. He is not just an excellent journalist or an editor in chief of a publisher that performs its job better than other media organizations. Over the years, through his work with WikiLeaks, Assange has become a champion of the oppressed, regarded as a hero around the world, especially by those who live under authoritarian and oppressive regimes, where human right abuses are rampant.
At its inception, WikiLeaks was conceived with aspiration of human civilization to better itself, which was manifested in common people’s desire for liberation. In his Oslo speech in 2010, where he spoke in front of an audience who was just about to witness a huge tide shift in the media landscape, Assange articulated the organization’s vision and its goal of achieving justice. He made it clear that the aim of WikiLeaks is to create intellectual records of how civilization actually works in practice, and by using that knowledge to stop abuse before it happens.
As the whistleblowing site has blazed into a mainstream spotlight with a series of sensational publications, Assange never wavered in his commitment to justice and ordinary people’s struggle for freedom. Until before he was cut offline, from a tiny room in the embassy, he spoke in defense of Catalans’ non-violent resistance against Spanish Central government’s abuse of their democratic rights. He called their peaceful self-determination in the face of police brutality “the most disciplined Gandhian project since Gandhi” and said that “its results will spread everywhere.”
In a sense, WikiLeaks has become a modern embodiment of the Gandhian project. Almost a century ago, Mohandas Gandhi, a spiritual and political leader led India’s independence from Britain. For Gandhi’s time, it was the colonial rule of the British Empire that his people fought against. Now, this old empire’s ambition for domination is carried on by American hegemony. It is this unaccounted Western power that WikiLeaks came to confront through a trove of original source documents with a pristine record of accuracy.
Cryptography as a Weapon for Non-Violent Resistance
So, how does WikiLeaks make itself become a modern day Gandhian project? Gandhi put the principle of non-violence at a center of his efforts. He wanted to end wars and state abuse of power, not by the methods of oppressors, perpetuating further violence, but with different means. For this, he employed a non-violent civil disobedience as a way for people to engage in the peaceful resistance against injustice.
Now, in this digital age, WikiLeaks revived this Gandhian tradition of peaceful resistance online at a global scale. Assange saw potential in cryptography to offer a way for common people to non-violently resist the domination of powerful states. He once articulated the potent revolutionary force inherent in cryptography:
“Cryptography can protect not just the civil liberties and rights of individuals, but the sovereignty and independence of whole countries, solidarity between groups with common cause, and the project of global emancipation. It can be used to fight not just the tyranny of the state over the individual but the tyranny of the empire over smaller states.”
Specifically, with creative application of cryptography, Assange enabled a free speech right in a form that is resilient to government censorship and restriction. In the colonization of the past, the empire’s aggression was naked, where people who were oppressed by colonial masters were able to see their savagery and brutality. Now, the beast inside civilization hides its claws behind a façade of democracy and conspires to bring humanity down in secret.
Permissionless free speech that has been distributed across the Internet offered ordinary people a non-violent democratic weapon to combat against the patronage network that tries to control people through deception and secrecy. An invention of an online anonymous secure drop box made it possible for people anywhere in the world, regardless of their jurisdiction, to expose governments’ wrongdoing and corruption of institutions, without fear of political retaliation. They then could stop violence and mitigate the harm inflicted by those in power.