16 November 2012, 18:33

Restrictions to Internet free speech: Assange and Manning

Restrictions to Internet free speech: Assange and Manning

The US quite regularly rebukes Russia for putting a leash on the freedom of speech. This May, the US State Department focused on the Russian media in its annual human rights report.

Among other things, the report says that some opposition journalists and activists saw abuse, attacks, persecution and threats from government institutions. A new law blacklisting websites with malicious content signed by President Putin is also likely to trigger more “freedom abuse” criticism from the West.

However, America can hardly serve as a freedom of speech model itself. Let’s remember the notorious case of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Though his publications concerned not only the US but other major countries, America showed the most painful reaction of them all. Assange is now hiding in the Embassy of Ecuador in London fearing extradition to the US. However, the UK isn’t giving up on getting him out of there even though it has no legal rights to do so. The problem is that Assange is not an Ecuador national and, thus, can’t be granted diplomatic immunity.

Assange faces sexual assault charges in Sweden though his lawyers claim that the case was fabricated. Formally, the trial is not politically biased but Assange and his attorneys believe it is linked to WikiLeaks publishing US classified diplomatic cables. Assange maintains his innocence. When the Australian was waiting for his trial in the UK, he hosted a TV show on Russia’s Russia Today channel, interviewing numerous key figures like Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. In late November 2010, Assange’s whistleblower website published 250,000 classified documents of the US State Department exposing the dark side of US diplomacy and Washington’s real attitude to foreign leaders and burning global issues.

While Assange is hiding, his troubled “counterpart”, US Army soldier Bradley Manning is waiting for a trial in the US. He is in jail in rather harsh detention conditions. The soldier can face capital punishment seeing 22 charges including passing on classified material to the enemy.

The WikiLeaks US exposure is considered the largest leak in the media history. But in this case, the Internet freedom of speech advocated by the US was limited pretty soon after the publications. According to Assange, ten days later, the US State Department stood behind the blockade of the site’s funding via major American payment systems, a campaign against the site’s staff and even urges to kill them. In December 2010, Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union joined the blockage against WikiLeaks and the site had to suspend its activity.

Thereby, publications of unpleasant diplomatic cables weretreated by the US not as Internet freedom at all.

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