Julian Assange: controversial founder of WikiLeaks


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London (AFP) – Legal controversies surrounding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are now in their second decade and the divisions between his supporters and critics remain more intractable than ever.

For some, the 50-year-old Australian is a fearless press freedom activist. For others, he was reckless with classified information, possibly putting sources at risk.

Assange is the figurehead of the whistleblower site that has exposed government secrets around the world, including the explosive leak of US military and diplomatic records related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He has spent most of the last decade in custody or locked up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, trying to avoid extradition – first to Sweden to respond to rape allegations, then to the States. -United.

Born in Townsville, Queensland, in 1971, Assange described a traveling childhood and claims to have attended 37 schools before settling in Melbourne.

As a teenager, he discovered a talent for hacking, which quickly caught the attention of the Australian police.

Assange was held at Belmarsh High Security Prison in South East London Tolga Akmen AFP

He admitted most of the charges against him, for which he paid a fine.

Assange started WikiLeaks in 2006 with a group of like-minded activists and IT experts.

“We are creating a new standard for a free press,” Assange told AFP in an interview in August 2010.

Asylum embassy

His legal saga began in 2010, shortly after he released revelations from classified documents about US military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and rape allegations in Sweden, which he has consistently denied.


Assange's case has become a famous cause for media freedom, but opponents see it as reckless
Assange’s case has become a famous cause for media freedom, but opponents see it as reckless William WEST AFP

He was in Britain when Sweden requested his extradition, which he was able to dodge when Ecuador granted him political asylum and allowed him to live in its embassy in London.

For seven years, Assange lived in a tiny Embassy apartment, exercising on a treadmill and using a solar light to compensate for the lack of natural light in a situation he compared to life at a resort. spatial.

However, his extended stay in the mission came to an end after a new government in Quito handed him over to British police in April 2019. He was arrested for breach of bail and jailed.

Swedish prosecutors had dropped the rape investigation, saying in 2019 that despite a “credible” account from the alleged victim, there was not enough evidence to prosecute.

But as Assange feared, it was later revealed that Washington was accusing him of violating US espionage law over the 2010 leaks.

His supporters, including Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, say the accusations are politically motivated.


Assange fell out dramatically with former media partners after WikiLeaks uploaded unredacted documents
Assange fell out dramatically with former media partners after WikiLeaks uploaded unredacted documents Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS AFP / File

They have repeatedly expressed concerns about the physical and mental toll of his prolonged incarceration.

Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, condemned the conditions of detention at Belmarsh Prison in London where Assange is being held, saying the “progressively severe suffering inflicted on him” amounted to torture.

Russia claims

Assange was initially supported by human rights groups and newspapers that once worked with him to edit and publish America’s war diaries.

They included a video leak showing a US Army Apache helicopter shooting at and killing two journalists and several Iraqi civilians on a Baghdad street in 2007.


Assange's fiancee Stella Moris, the mother of his two young boys, is leading the campaign for his release
Assange’s fiancee Stella Moris, the mother of his two young boys, is leading the campaign for his release JOEL SAGET AFP

But many were horrified when WikiLeaks uploaded unredacted documents, including names of informants, and Assange fell out dramatically with his media partners.

US attorneys conceded that although they were “aware” of sources that disappeared after WikiLeaks released their names, that “cannot prove that their disappearance was a result of being exposed by WikiLeaks.”

Questions have also arisen about Assange’s relations with Russia.

Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into interference in the 2016 US presidential election won by Donald Trump found that the Russians “appeared” to have hacked Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and then “publicly released these documents through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks “.

But Assange’s lawyer claimed in a court hearing that Trump promised a pardon if his client testified that Russia failed to deliver the emails that damaged Clinton so much.

Trump angrily dismissed claims that his campaign colluded with the Kremlin – allegations the Mueller Inquiry found to be baseless.

Assange is the father of two little boys with his partner and fiancee Stella Moris, a lawyer born in South Africa.