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On 11th of April 2019, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London by British police following his expulsion from the Ecuadorian embassy, where he had resided as a political asylum seeker for the past seven years. After his arrest, the United States Justice Department unsealed an indictment alleging that Assange conspired with former U.S intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password on a Defense Department computer network in order to download classified records and transmit them to WikiLeaks in 2010. The charge of “computer hacking conspiracy’ as lodged by the United States remains in conjunction with the charge of skipping bail in the United Kingdom and allegations of rape and sexual misconduct supposedly conducted by Assange in Sweden in August 2010.
Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said they would be fighting the extradition request. She said it set a “dangerous precedent” where any journalist could face U.S charges for “publishing truthful information about the United States”. Finding him guilty of that charge, District Judge Michael Snow said Assange’s behaviour was “the behaviour of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest”. David Schulz, senior counsel at Ballard Spahr LLP and director of the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School noted, “This case raises a number of really thorny questions about what it means to be a journalist, and who is entitled to the constitutional protections that do exist to ensure that the public gets the information it needs”. Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists argued, “The potential implications for press freedom of this allegation of conspiracy between publisher and source are deeply troubling”.
For the past seven years, Assange took refuge in the small Ecuadorian embassy in order to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegations of rape and sexual misconduct, which he has consistently denied. The Australian national remained a vocal adversary of the United States, governmental activities and the freedom of press. Assange first sought asylum from Ecuador to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegations of rape and sexual misconduct. Since his arrest, the case has been reopened. The nine-year long saga has continued to feature as a prominent news headline and presented a critical roadblock for the publication of the ‘truth’ within the national media. It is important in this instance to distinguish the difference between Assange as the controversial political figure – and his actions dating back to 2010. The publication of highly detailed information which incriminates the U.S government sets an important precedent in regards to the public’s rights to access important government information – which ultimately affects them.
The phrase ‘post truth’ has increasingly come to define the political landscape of a generation. In this environment, rhetorical borders blue the distinction between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and reality. In this same context, a liar is ethically challenged for the same person for whom the truth has become temporarily unavailable. The consequences are devastating and far reaching. The latest development in the increasingly complicated saga surrounding Assange is just one example of the effective manipulation of the truth to yield alternative, less desirable political outcomes. In the wake of Assange’s arrest and impending extradition to the United States on ‘computer hacking conspiracy charges’, the realities of truth creation and dissemination are truly frightening. According to the architect of the post truth era, Vladislav Surkov acclaimed, “Foreign politicians complain that Russia is meddling in elections and referendums across the world . . .in actual fact it is much more serious than that. Russia is meddling in their brains, changing their consciousness and they have no idea what do to about it . . .”. With Russia’s influence within the Assange scandal not yet fully exposed, the effects of the post truth era have begun to critically permeate international affairs and relations. The effects of Assange’s actions and continued activism in the realm of truth media will ensure governments remain on high alert and perhaps place greater restrictions on important, highly classified information. The possibilities for conflict between nations in light of the information published by Assange, and indeed what he represents as a martyr of free press, may mean government further manipulate the truth that it becomes impossible to distinguish fiction from reality.