Julian Assange at the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010
The British Supreme Court has spoken. By a verdict of 5-2, the judges decided that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, must be extradited to Sweden for questioning related to sexual molestation and rape in cases brought by two Swedish women. Assange can still appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, delaying his departure from Britain.
Before I write any further, let me make two things clear. I have a personal distate for Julian Assange because of statements he made about the state of women's rights in Sweden. I am also not a die-hard fan of Wikileaks like many colleagues and friends, although I have defended them in the past, including in this interview.
Close friends have gone through the horrors of sexual abuse, some on more than one occasion. To say I am militant about punishing rapists would be an understatement. So Julian Assange should prepare himself to face a Swedish court and exonerate himself.
At the same time, I am skeptical that this case is limited to the immediate questions of what Assange did and did not do, on a consensual or far-from-consensual basis, with two Swedish women.
Assange and Wikileaks are more than the organisation behind many thousands of leaked classified US diplomatic documents and videos that created some buzz back in 2010, while losing traction by the end of 2011. They have become symbols of a global movement which believes that citizens can hold their governments accountable by making the rest of the world aware of what's really going on.
At a time when large media organizations are increasingly bought and constricted through almost farcical gag-orders, threats, and intimidation, many people have been inspired by the example of Wikileaks to bring news and information to the Internet - news and information that you otherwise would not have heard.
Do I think Assange and Wikileaks are single-handedly responsible for sparking this movement? Certainly not. However, their guilt in the eyes of those who control our destinies is greater because they threatened to expose dark deeds, including those of supposed beacons of freedom and defenders of enlightenment ideas. It is one thing when you post a video of Bashar al-Assad's thugs killing children. It is another when the subject you are exposing in a harsher light, in film and in cables, is the USA.
This is more than a case about Assange or justice for the women he might have violated. It's about making sure every kid with a camera chasing a protest in New York, Quebec, Athens, and London knows that they must return to their living rooms and to believing what the box in the corner tells them or, alternatively, risk being pursued for standing up to the official version of "truth".
The past three years has seen a dramatic shift in the way news and information about events around the world are generated, processed ,and consumed. At the time that governments started chasing Assange, the movement was in its infancy. Perhaps they thought putting him behind bars would end it. Now, thanks in part to the Arab uprisings, that wave has swept past Assange and his fate.
The genie that is citizen journalism cannot be put back in the lamp. Because for Assange's supporters, and indeed for some of his detractors, this is not about the founder of one significant outlet. It is about all the others and their right to exist as part of a free, meaningful, and competent press.