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Julian Assange and What He Means for Free Speech 

Lucas Corbin reporter 

Monday November 27, five major media companies, including the New York Times and The Guardian, published an open letter calling for the expungement of Julian Assange’s charges, stating: “Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information, when necessary, in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists.” Mr. Assange founded WikiLeaks, which attempts to bring attention to human rights and civil liberty violations from various governments and has released an estimated ten million private documents, including internal documents pertaining to the Syrian government’s retaliation to the nation’s Civil War and the United States’ questionable actions during the War on Terror. 

During the Trump administration, Assange and his organization were called a “Non-state hostile intelligence service, often abetted by state actors like Russia,” by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo. WikiLeaks eventually published documents that Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence platform that assists with some federal missions, had plans to “Move him [Assange] from country to country to face charges for the next 25 years. But seize everything he and his family own, to include every person liked to Wiki[Leaks]”. There were also plans to kidnap or assonate Assange due to his threat to national security. 

Following WikiLeaks’ piece investigating corruption within the Ecuadorian legislature in 2019, Ecuador’s President Moreno declared that Assange had violated his terms of asylum to the country, which led to his arrest. Later that year, Mr. Assange was indicted by the United States with seventeen charges relating to the 1917 Espionage Act, which was designed to prevent information regarding the United States’ national defense from those that are not entitled to it. He has not been extradited despite the efforts of President Biden, and currently remains in HMP Belmarsh in London. 

Political activists, like Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters and the NYC Veterans for Peace, have labeled Mr. Assange as the international icon of free speech since his arrest and declared his imprisonment a threat to journalism and expression, with his wife Stella Assange telling the New York Times in June: “I’m sure you understand the extremely serious implications this has for all of you and for human rights.” To an extent, their efforts have been overshadowed in recent months by Elon Musk, who has sparked a national debate regarding the national threat to the freedom of speech. According to YouGov, an American polling organization, conservatives believe the largest threat to the First Amendment is government regulations and state-sponsored disinformation, while liberals believe that the threat is due to the conglomeration of big businesses. While he was able to provide temporary satisfaction for his heavily conservative base and branded himself as a freedom fighter, Mr. Musk’s changes to the platform’s content moderation policies look to be a façade hiding a highly moderated interior that will cause his followers to turn against him in the coming years following their gradual dissatisfaction with the platform. 

Mr. Musk has not spent over a decade exposing international secrets regarding the harmful transactions of some of the world’s largest governments, and, while his plans to liberate Twitter may cast an illusion of freedom, it is certainly not the same that the WikiLeaks publisher it trying to achieve. For Assange, freedom of speech would be freedom from tyranny and autocracy, even when exposing the systemic failures that fundamentally dismantle the integrity of our democratic institutions.  

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