Freedom for Julian Assange



Assange's fate matches the fate of the established model of computerized democratic regimes and also the idea of ​​democracy as a universal value.

the international outrage

The international community chose February 25 to unify efforts in favor of Julian Assange. The Australian cyberactivist, founder of WikiLeaks, has been a refugee and political prisoner since 2010. After living in asylum at the Embassy of Ecuador in London, in the Knightsbridge neighborhood, for seven years, the most famous and persecuted computer programmer of this century was, after authorization by the Embassy, ​​removed from the property by Metropolitan Police, on April 11, 2019, and taken to a police establishment in the center of the city.

Since then, the Townsville-born journalist has remained in Scotland Yard custody at Belmarsh maximum security men's prison in Thamesmead, south-east London. The developer of Livre, born on July 3, 1971, is awaiting final judgment on the US appeal for his extradition to the country.

The condition of asylum, interrupted by the government of Ecuador on the grounds that Assange violated diplomatic conventions and legal determinations of the country, did not cease to be a kind of “house arrest”. Julian Assange could not leave the Embassy premises: transit to British public places would give the London Metropolitan Police the legal prerogative to arrest him immediately, at the request of the United States and British justice (in this case, for having failed to comply with the terms of his provisional release in the country). In February 2016, the United Nations (UN) spoke about it, defending the right of refugees to come and go without threatening their freedom.1

Since then, several demonstrations and protests in favor of Assange's life have been observed in Brazil and in several cities around the world. Widespread indignation tied the international absurdity of the situation to the undermining of freedom of the press and expression. Journalistic, human and civil rights organizations such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Amnesty International (AI-USA), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among more than 20 others, as well as lawyers, journalists and writers have demanded that the Presidency and the Department of Justice of the United States suspend the charges, so that the judicial process is closed.2

Document addressed to the second body, on 08/02/2021, argued, correctly, that the incrimination of Assange completely hurt press activity at a global level. Listen to a significant excerpt from the text (in free translation, with formal adaptations): “the government's accusation [of the United States against Assange] represents a serious threat to freedom of the press [both at home and abroad]. (…) [It] threatens freedom of the press because much of the conduct described in the indictment is conduct that journalists are normally engaged in – and should be engaged in – in order to do the work the public needs them to do. In most news publications, journalists regularly speak with sources, ask for clarification or additional documentation, and receive and publish documents that the government considers secret. In our opinion, such a precedent in this case could effectively criminalize common journalistic practices.”3

About two years earlier, Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, had stated to Public that the permanence of the indictment against Julian Assange meant that “no publisher, no editor, no journalist is safe anywhere in the world.”4 Above all, the strength of WikiLeaks depends on the guarantee of source protection, a precept of anonymity that has long been internationally recognized, in democratic regimes, as a basis sine qua non of press work.5 Obviously, this essential need is independent of the WikiLeaks having been politically and judicially accused of failing to manage the anonymity of his informants, putting lives at risk.6

In December 2020, the UN, through an independent rapporteur for human rights, sent an open letter to the Presidency of the United States asking that the Australian cyberactivist be pardoned.7


the incrimination

O WikiLeaks is a multinational, not-for-profit media organization interested in disclosing secret or restricted material, especially covering war, espionage and corruption. Created in 2006 by Julian Assange, with the support of other activists, the WikiLeaks maintains formal relationships with more than 100 media outlets in different countries.8

In 2010, the organization leaked hundreds of thousands of classified files (considered confidential and secret) by the US Department of Defense. The batch included information about the wars against Afghanistan (2001-2021) and against Iraq (2003-2011). the bulky ones leaks [leaks] relied on the collaboration of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, former soldier and former US Army intelligence analyst.

The public visibility of the material was considered a crime of violation of the Espionage Act [Espionage Law] and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) [Computer Fraud and Abuse Act] of the country. In all, 18 criminal charges, including conspiracy, could sentence Julian Assange to 175 years in prison.

It's not necessary expertise in cavilous devices, nor evocation of ethics textbooks to plunder apparent ambiguities of the obvious – he vehemently recalls prudence –: the set of leaked documents about the two wars shows that there are crimes and crimes. Reopening innovative and borderless controversies, the material included information on hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded civilians, on the torture of detainees by the repressive apparatus in Iraq and on the elimination of surrendered enemies, in clear breach of international law; and a videographic record of US helicopter gunfire on civilians and journalists in suburban Baghdad.9

Among many other publications, the WikiLeaks, in its trajectory, leaked documents referring to torture and other forms of coercion against prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, from 2002 to 2008.10


prisoner of transparency

Julian Assange's condition as a political prisoner has specific characteristics.

The creator of WikiLeaks he is a “prisoner of transparency”. From a political point of view, the concept of “prisoner of transparency” – or incarcerated for acts of revealing hidden information – is subordinated to (or maintains affinity with) prisoner of conscience. Both, in turn, fall under the category of political prisoner.

The incarcerated for transparency is a typical political prisoner of cyberculture, the civilization whose social development depends on the use of digital technologies and interactive networks in all sectors.

The persecution of Julian Assange and his imprisonment are institutional responses with a peculiar shield from a status quo marked by the sharp conflict between unconditional secrecy and scandalous revelation. This judicial and police repression has as its main target acts dedicated to revelations online fast releases of occluded and important content for society – acts not previously intercepted and/or neutralized by equal or equivalent speed mechanisms. The product of leaking, crumbling the prohibition line, ends up in the hands of billions of people, via smartphones e tablets, before the television, radio and print media.

Prisoners of conscience are persons imprisoned or forced into similar constricting situations solely on the basis of their ethnic origin, skin color, gender, language, beliefs, religious inclination and/or sexual orientation. The adverb in italics avoids dubiousness: the repression falls on the existential condition of the victim, as well as on his spiritual life and his symbolic cultivation without exercising (or supporting) related violence (physical or immaterial).

In general, the public or private manifestation of these convictions and beliefs is taken as a confrontation with the political regimes of the countries where the prisoners live or have lived. How do they have the power ethos (that is, a way of being in the world), it is enough, in many cases, that they only exist to invariably give up pretexts expected by the institutional, judicial and police systems of these regimes. The corporal and psychological suffering of the prisoner of conscience fits the international concept of torture and/or cruel or inhumane treatment.

The expression prisoners of conscience was coined by Peter Benenson. In May 1961, the English lawyer published an article on the front page of the The Observer Weekend Review, entitled The forgotten prisoners [The forgotten prisoners, in consecrated translation].11 Benenson listed cases of violation of basic rights of peaceful victims in several countries; and launched the “Appeal for Amnesty, 1961”, on behalf of a group of London lawyers, writers and publishers.

Six months before the article was published, two students were arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison in Portugal. The “crime” committed: toasting freedom, with glasses, in a restaurant in Lisbon, in the shadow of Salazar's dungeons. The authoritarian absurdity inspired a grand contradictory project: Benenson's pacifist campaign culminated in the founding, in England, of the Amnesty International. Amnesty International, Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and today present in more than 150 countries, is a non-governmental and non-profit organization dedicated to assisting prisoners with the aforementioned profile and condition, as well as to the promotion and cross-border defense of the rights humans.

Currently, there are thousands of prisoners of conscience in the world.12

Keeping the previous contextual and characteristic traits in mind, the person imprisoned for transparency is, it should be emphasized, a specific type of prisoner of conscience. Imprisoned for transparency are people subjected to deprivation of liberty at the behest of governments or states for bringing to light, without physical violence, what confronts hegemonic interests and/or legislation (such as national security) and which, at the same time, is of interest to the particular society, public opinion in a group of countries or the world.

Arrested for acts of transparency are citizens persecuted for shedding light on what would otherwise be closed to the public eye and wide access, outside history (temporarily or for life); in a word, for legitimately giving visibility to what is “prohibited”, that is, to secrets that institutional conveniences have made sensitive, placing them at the center of the discussion table, as the main agenda, and allowing the media and public opinion to take a stand about. In case of WikiLeaks, include, among these secrets, war crimes, corrupt practices and violations of human rights.

These professionals boldly carry out the precept of democracy in relation to a practice that is as trivial as it is free of controversy in times of digital and interactive mobility: that of making representations about facts circulate by making them available and/or broadcasting. online, as a form of freedom of expression. The courage involved in exercising this freedom, however, accomplishes more: the political contribution to factual veracity articulates the burst of the unprecedented with the manumission of the chained. With remarkable militancy, the prisoners of transparency do so under the aegis and in favor of human, political and civil rights.

According to the order's repressive rule, the political and social nuisance caused is so massive that the strategic intelligence and pragmatic knowledge of the accused must be silenced with physical isolation from society. In this litigation, the proto-fascism of government or state falls on the head, on the mouth and on the actions of the victim, aiming to affect not only his operation and circulation, but also his image, his honor and his life (both present and future, for the past). From the point of view of the exercise (professional or otherwise) of freedom of expression, the cowardice of institutions (political, judicial and police) reveals, in fact, not their domestication power, but a vehement mixture of systemic fear and fragility.

The sociopolitical mission of the prisoner of conscience brings him closer to the mission of journalism. The incarcerated person belongs to the history of workers in this international area of ​​knowledge and activity, carrying out the same democratic fight against all forms of authoritarianism and the curtailment of civil liberties.13 The basic difference, among others, is that the news activity adds, invariably and, not infrequently, for days or months, informative and/or explanatory resources to the published content. The prisoner of transparency, by contrast, pulls data out of the (sometimes immoral) computer darkness, with the help of whistleblowers (informants-whistleblowers and passers of this data), and delivers them to the public light online, in a single block or in series, with a presentation or description of the material, by way of contextualization, accompanied or not by analyzes and opinion articles.14

There is, however, something more peculiar. The prior conviction imposed on Julian Assange and, by extension, the WikiLeaks it is umbilically linked to an exponential and little-prioritized apple: speed.

O WikiLeaks it is a communication organ with resounding reverberations hand to hand, head to head, where the political imaginary, the technological infrastructure and the know-how accumulated by governments, states and private companies do not reach. In a metaphor of stamped paints, the leak it is highly radioactive: revealing supposedly impenetrable viscera, it has a similar effect, on the symbolic level, to that of a nuclear oversight. Instantaneous, the typical transparency of leaking scandalizes long-term consequences.

The founder of WikiLeaks is a “speed prisoner”; and it is only because, before, he was bitterly imprisoned as a militant of digital and interactive transparency. It therefore needs to be exorcised as soon as possible – with a cell, say the opposed interests of the status quo – the ghost of the fast spiral, unleashed by whoever holds the operational key of the bunkers, cellars and drawers establishment – again, where intelligence and repression forces cannot intercept or prevent in advance.

Julian Assange is the internationally constructed "scapegoat" to signal that WikiLeaks and its millions of followers and supporters around the world animate a central public danger - the danger of loose, untamed speed. Neutralizing it, under all legal and moral alibis, is as much a priority as eradicating terrorism. The authoritarian embarrassment of the selective prediction of this scapegoat loses its origins in remote antiquity: it aims to impose, through the local threat and the fear spread to the four corners, the image of what can happen to anyone who dares to do the same.


The irony of dialectics

The previous arguments give rise to a reflection on a larger scale, with idiosyncratic historical aspects.

Since the last decade of the last century, digital actions of global entanglement and uncontrollable dissemination of content, in favor of unconditional transparency, have challenged the opacity of national States and large companies. These counter-confidential actions, so simple, concrete and precise – neither exclusively local nor solely global, rather glocals by nature – have been indiscriminately and authoritatively taken by state and corporate technobureaucracies as “crimes” of espionage, fraud and computer abuse and against national security – transgressions, strictly speaking, of “illegal” visibility (from obtaining data to the leak), as if they renewed, on the symbolic level of culture, the conventional “crime of lese-patria”. They are, in all, paradoxical: they entail a severe penalty on those who shed light on what the voices of order consider could never happen, and this on a planet articulated via interactive networks.

Digital actions that democratize, denouncing, the confidential, the secret, the hidden and/or hidden with public utility, massifying it (them), through hypercirculation in social networks via smartphones, tablets e laptops, currently constitute the greatest threat to the aforementioned technobureaucracies – one of the central points of the macrostructural conflict between democratic visibility and totalitarian invisibility in the field of data.

The unpredictable irony of the dialectic in history has, for decades, made the political repression of the State fall fiercely on this emerging and unexpected negative: the rapid leak of information in favor of the public interest and the preservation of human and civil rights on a world scale, a primary goal the democratic press and, more broadly, the defense of freedom of expression. O status quo state-corporate pretexts legitimate reasons: a leak, enterprise wiki or not, it generates devastating effects on the political relations of strength and security between the State and civil society and even between nations – relations based on shuffled tectonic plates. (Roughly, the particle wiki refers to shared editing work, with the result available for universal access).

“Outflows” of this nature can take place both via WikiLeaks or similar organizations, as well as personal actions, such as that of Edward Snowden, or journalistic-institutional actions, such as those of The Washington Post and The Guardian. In June and July 2013, the two newspapers and Snowden, a former computer security technician who provided services to the Pentagon and since then has been in asylum in an undetermined location in Russia, denounced, in a series of articles, the global surveillance system of the US National Security Agency (NSA).15

The social hot seat of this “war” of speed between secrecy and revelation was and will continue to be multimedia visibility, today in a digital and interactive spurt. The war against terror by religious and political groups, as well as cyber warfare (now in an atmosphere of Cold War recrudescence with the epicenter in Ukraine and rescheduled to the invisibility of blackmail, espionage and disinformation networks), only granted greater legitimacy to state fundamentalism , expressed in persecutory measures against informational “misconduct”.

The charge, in these cases, is deja vu, re-editing the old police dagger: “conspiracy” – “attack against the State” which also repeats what is already known: democratic technobureaucracies paranoidally fear real-time networks because they have always feared the widespread multivocal fuss, the quickly reorganized common. Not by chance, they monitor them, watch over them, systematize them, in the vain prospect of one day controlling them in total.

The intelligence of the armor to the establishment virtual world, especially in the northern hemisphere, is known not to be as safe as it appears. The institutions' unconditional adherence to the functional promises of computerization and digitalization converged to the allocation of archives in “places” subject to invasion – either by leak de whistleblowers, either by activity hacking. Nothing is 100% protected if it is under binary code or any computer language. Encryption is an absolute barrier only in layman's mind.

leaks of great importance, as Assange and Snowden pointed out, make national states rearm claws previously displayed mostly against political-social movements, traditional revolutionary intentions, general strikes, popular articulations between countryside and city, urban protests, among other “threatening” forms of dialectic , on a national or international scale.

This historical condition made the lexicon go crazy for a long time: the state of exception, represented by democratic technobureaucracies, with paradoxically authoritarian state models, imposes itself as legality and/or normality; and what could never be considered an exception – in this case, legitimate actions in favor of visibility rights, linked to freedom of thought, communication and reception, even involving sensitive content of general interest – is publicly stigmatized as a heinous fraud, justifying of endless persecution, in the name of opaque State reasons and unconditional security confidentiality.


The Achilles heel of computerized democracies

Under the authoritarian rage of Western democratic states, paranoia about the leak, the “threat” wiki and the hyperfragility of status quo computerized victimizes militants of the visibility radiated in the era of cyberculture.

Julian Assange is the most internationally known prisoner of transparency and speed. His trajectory makes it unlikely that other digital libertarians are not yet to come and be incarcerated. O WikiLeaks it is the first global machine for efficient digital unveiling against actions by States, governments and companies that confront, with occlusion of information, the principle of public interest.

The condition of the Australian journalist is the Achilles heel of cyberculturally unresolved democracies. It demonstrates the permanent rate of institutional zero tolerance for the disclosure of truthful and absolutely shocking facts.

The accusation against Julian Assange, in addition to being a legal piece of ultraconservative and extemporaneous value, is ethically reprehensible, if not institutionally cynical. The juxtaposed facts in the topics above remove doubts. The computer programmer was accused of violating laws in the United States and the United Kingdom, never for having disclosed false documents, committed false testimony, omitted his name in the leak or affronted and insulted government and state authorities who intended to leave inadmissible facts in the darkness for the rest of the story. Unless better evidence to the contrary, at no time was the veracity of the material published by the WikiLeaks.

Legislation that prohibits access to material of historical, social or collective value should be indexed as an unacceptable crime of the democratic State. In reverse, the denunciation of this incongruity always serves the history of freedom of contradiction.

The so-called “Assange case” negatively indicates the degree of quality and maturity of the political regimes involved. In mature democracies in terms of legal and political respect for freedom of the press and expression, Julian Assange would never be a refugee or political prisoner. It would continue to happen to him what the team at WikiLeaks obtained from 2008 to 2015: 17 awards and recognitions, one nomination for the UN Nelson Mandela Prize and six nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize (from 2010 to 2015).16

Equally, Assange's fate matches the fate not only of the established model of computerized democratic regimes, but also of the idea of ​​democracy as a universal value. This essential link illuminates the present: States of Law that coerce, persecute and/or imprison professionals for acts of transparency tend to reward those who “walk in line” and flatter the status quo – and even so, as long as he doesn’t falter, so as not to suffer symbolic beheading behind bars.

Such a depreciated institutional level is opened up by the set of physical and symbolic death attempts suffered by the Australian publisher. In 2017, the US secret service threatened him with death by poisoning.17 Still during his stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the accused of spying for the United States was spied on 24 hours a day by micro cameras installed in his room.18 The attempt to incriminate him for rape and sexual harassment in Sweden, based on the denunciation of two women in the country in 2010, proved, in the end, to be without effect. After five years of investigation, the case was dropped by the Swedish Public Prosecutor's Office.19 No compensation will make up for this worldwide smear campaign.

Above all, the personal suffering of Julian Assange, his health victimized by continuous isolation, psychological torture and stroke,20 mirrors the drama of freedom of the press and expression in irreversible times of interactive networks. the creator of WikiLeaks paid in one's own body, in the redoubt of an individual life permanently threatened, by the acute antagonism that, in this case, evaded the conventional terrain of class conflict to soak up the cruel oscillations between secrecy and revelation via cyberspace.

* Eugene Trivinho é Professor of the Graduate Studies Program in Communication and Semiotics at PUC-SP.

Extended version of article published in Le Monde Diplomatique Brazil.



  1. The official text is available at
  2. For more details, see the article by Óscar Gutiérrez published in El País, on 14/02/2021, in
  3. The full document, in the original English, can be found at website do Reporters Without BordersOn

    See also the articles by Roxana Baspineiro, from the Latin American Information Agency (ALAI), in; and Matthias von Hein, editor of Deutsche Welle (DW), in The first is from January 2021, when Assange's extradition to the United States was barred by the UK justice; and the second article, from December of the same year, when the extradition was authorized. A brief contextualization between the two moments was made by Rafa de Miguel, in El País, in

  1. The interview is available at
  2. See the unanimous resolution of the International Press Institute (IPI), of June 2012, in The document ratifies, in journalistic practices, the right to use leaked information and to protect sources, as well as the requirement that authorities respect this right. See also the IPI pronouncement, in 2016, on the protection of journalists, at

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC), an international network of civil organizations headquartered in South Africa, spoke with the same emphasis, in a document entitled The protection of sources and whistleblowers [The protection of sources and informants-whistleblowers, in approximate translation], submitted to the UN in 2015. The text is available at

In particular, the UN Human Rights Council had already firmly defended this right, in a 2012 report dedicated to the protection and promotion of freedom of expression and opinion. The document can be read at See, in particular, item 109.

Also in 2012, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched its plan of action regarding the safety of journalists and impunity. The multilingual text introduction page is at The Portuguese version of the document, published the following year, is in

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) expressed the institution's concern with the need to strengthen national protection systems for whistleblowers. See the text at

In Brazil, the Federal Constitution of 1988 inserted, in its Article 5, item XIV, the secrecy of the source among the fundamental rights and guarantees.

  1. Cf. Rafa de Miguel, in El País, in
  2. The letter is available at
  3. Additional details are self-defined on the organization page under
  4. The video is available at
  5. The files are in
  6. Um briefing of Amnesty International (AI), with the reproduction of the printed and unabridged version of the English original is at A synoptic version was republished by The Guardian in

The historicization of the article, evoking Benenson's motivations and the creation of AI, was done by Christie Miedema, in Miedema is a historian and human rights activist linked to the Clean Clothes Campaign, a global organization based in the Netherlands dedicated to defending the rights of workers in the fashion and sportswear industry.

  1. See AI's 2021 and 2020 global reports at e Previous reports are listed at
  2. See, by the way, the declaration of the WikiLeaks on World Press Freedom Day 2019 in The organization honors more than 250 journalists imprisoned simply for doing their job.
  3. See the website do WikiLeaksOn The leaks are classified into six folders: intelligence, global economy, international politics, corporation, government, war, and military.
  4. A historicization of the case was made by the G1On
  5. Information available on the organization's page at
  6. Cf. noticed Yahoo! NewsOn
  7. Articles by José María Irujo for the The country contextualize the facts,, e
  8. Compare the news The country of 2017, in, with that of Brasiliense Mail of 2019, in,807696/suecia-arquiva-caso-de-assange.shtml.
  9. Cf. report from G1On


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