“I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”



So well-known is the name Julian Assange that even those who don’t usually pay attention to such matters would have heard his name somehow.

Assange, the publisher of Wikileaks, has had his freedom taken away and now languishes in a British jail after he published leaked documents that expose American war crimes in a number of news outlets including The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, DER SPIEGEL, and El País.

The documents leaked video from a U.S. helicopter showing an air strike that killed civilians in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff. The US government charged Assange for endangering US servicemen because of the leak. This was accompanied by a request to extradite him to Sweden to face a trumped up rape charge. Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, England, in 2010 after the British court ordered his extradition to Sweden. After spending nine years in the embassy, he was arrested in London in 2019 on a US warrant. He faces 175 years in a US jail if found guilty of violating US espionage law. He remains in a British prison up to this day.

On November 28, the five publications called for his release because, in their words, “This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press…Holding governments accountable is part of the core mission of a free press in a democracy…Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists. If that work is criminalised, our public discourse and our democracies are made significantly weaker.”

The International Federation of Journalists, in support of his release, added: “None of WikiLeaks’ media partners have been charged … because of

Julian Assange

their collaboration with Assange.” Ditto for the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. So why Assange?

With all this handwringing by these august publications, none pointed to the real story, and that is that the US was responsible for the massacre of Iraqi civilians committed during an illegal invasion of their country.

That deliberate evasion only adds to the fundamental issues of freedom of speech and freedom to publish unsavoury but irrefutable facts.

While debate on freedom of speech is an ungoing process (and rightly so), there’s no doubt that open dialogue has historically served society well. It’s the very basis of tolerance even when it offends. Ironically, it is free and open discussion that helps define the limits of free speech when it ventures into hate, racial and religious intolerance. Sometimes it’s a messy process, but it has kept us from each other’s throats.

So we will argue no further than to quote one of the earliest advocates for free speech – the 17th century John Milton, one of the greatest English poets.

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” To embrace this is to embrace democratic living.

We are onside with the great bard.