Upside-down world: whistleblowers are punished and tortured, the mass murderers walk around free

FOREWORD

The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

In the course of writing my book I deliberately put the chapters online already in the draft stage to observe which stories seem to be interesting, how the search engines spread the keywords and what reactions there are to them. Well it shows the following picture in a nutshell. The grazing of the online information is mainly driven by countries like China, Russia, USA and also Iran and in no time a flood of applications for systematic monitoring of the content pours in as well as a tidal wave of pishing emails and other cyber attacks. It’s not particularly surprising but nevertheless impressive how seamlessly the Internet is being scoured today. In addition, spyware prgrams such as „PRISM“, „Tempora“ and „Boundless Informant“ come into play, as we have known since Edward Snowden. And that brings us to whistleblowers. Thanks to courageous whistleblowers like Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, or Edward Snoden or investigative journalists and research networks like „Bellingcam“, some dirty tricks of despots, corrupt politicians, military operations, surveillance measures and economic crimes come to light. Fortunately, one would think. But far from it.

„Julian Assange has provided evidence of the most serious state-sanctioned crimes we torture and mass murder“ says none other than the UN Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer in his book „The Case of Julian Assange – History of a Persecution“. Apparently, Melzer’s visit to investigate alleged human rights violations, announced at the Ecuadorian embassy in April 2019, led to a three-day coordinated blitz by the three countries involved that enabled Assange to be extradited to the British police and has since been back in custody. First, the Ecuadorian embassy withdrew his asylum status and citizenship without due process of law, and at the same time the British government received an extradition request from the U.S. authorities, after which Assange was handed over to the British police and has been in custody ever since. Before that, he spent seven years in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to the U.S. via Sweden. The U.S. extradition request is currently underway.

„The fact that the person who exposed mass murderers and crimes of torture against humanity should now himself be imprisoned as a criminal for 175 years, while not a single crime has been atoned for or those responsible punished,“ is evil for Europe, Melzer continues. „I didn’t think it was possible at first that Sweden or the UK would disregard human rights in such a way. But when it comes down to the wire, the rule of law doesn’t work anymore, even here in Europe. Julian Assange is, so to speak, „the skeleton in the closet of the self-righteous West.“ This has already shaken him (Melzer), although he has experienced and seen a lot as an ICRC delegate. Also the proceedings in Sweden because of alleged rape and other sexual offenses had been stopped, after Meltzer had written a letter to the Swedish government and had pointed out to them about 50 partly most serious procedural violations.

When asked whether this could also happen in Switzerland, the UN Special Rapporteur’s answer is: „Absolutely.“ He says he regularly has to approach massive discussions with the authorities in this country as well. The „crypto affair“ with the maipulated cipher devices is probably the most recent example that came to light, he said. Here, too, the Federal Council knew nothing about the affair, Parliament remained quiet and did not set up a commission of inquiry, and the judiciary did not take any action either, „which shows that the separation of powers does not always work in Switzerland either,“ says Melzer. Christoph Meili, who in 1997 made public the dormant assets of Holocaust victims and fled to the USA. Or Hervé Falciani, a former computer scientist at „HSBC“ bank in Geneva, who provided French, British and German tax authorities with data on thousands of tax cheats. Switzerland sentenced him to prison in 2015 for „economic espionage“ and demanded his extradition from Spain when Falciani was arrested in Madrid in 2018.

But back to the Assange case, he said the U.S. government’s unprecedented campaign is aimed at stalling Wikileaks‘ methods of allowing whistleblowers to anonymously publish large amounts of secret data. Seventeen of the 18 charges Assange faces in the U.S. involve mundane journalistic activities such as researching and publishing evidence of government abuse of power. „Assange himself never had a duty of secrecy,“ Melzer says. Assange is a journalist or publicist who obtained and published informa-tion. „That’s not a criminal offense,“ Melzer concludes. If he were convicted of being a spy for this, all investigative journalists worldwide could face the same in the future. That would be the end of democratic surveillance of state power. But there is hope, because under English law, no one can be extradited for a political offense. Espionage is by definition political. Last but not least, international law prohibits any extradition to a country where there is a threat of torture. This is well known to be the case in the U.S. for espionage charges.

The situation was different with Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley Manning. He leaked to WikiLeaks a U.S. military video of the July 12, 2007, airstrikes in Baghdad and more than 250,000 diplomatic dispatches. The video shows civilians being shot from U.S. gunships, including Reuters reporters, accompanied by cynical comments from the helicopter crew. On July 30, 2013, he was found guilty on 19 of 21 counts and sentenced on August 21, 2013, to 35 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Manning was released on May 17, 2017.

In 2013, Edward Snowden – a former technical employee of the US intelligence agencies NSA and CIA, who published the existence of the programs used for total surveillance of global Internet traffic. He, too, had to flee and absconded to Russia.

Reporters without Boarders  

The Trump Administration’s use of the Espionage Act could lead to Assange’s conviction and a sentence of up to 175 years in prison. This would set a dangerous precedent for all journalists who publish classified information that is of public interest.

In retaliation for his role facilitating major revelations in the international media about the way the United States conducted its wars, Assange is facing 18 charges in the US, including 17 under the Espionage Act. A UK court will consider the US extradition request starting on 24 February.

Assange’s alleged crimes date back to 2010, when the organisation he founded, WikiLeaks, transmitted documents to media outlets including Le Monde, The Guardian and The New York Times. The documents, which were provided to WikiLeaks by whistleblower Chelsea Manning,  included 250,000 US diplomatic cables and thousands of mostly classified internal US army reports about military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their disclosure exposed cases of torture, abduction and disappearances*.

The publication of these documents by media outlets was clearly in the public interest, and not an act of espionage. Julian Assange’s contribution to journalism is undeniable. 

Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for seven years, but, as a result of a change of government in Ecuador, he was released to UK authorities and arrested on 11 April 2019.

RSF urges the UK government to prioritise the principles of freedom of expression and the defence of journalism in its treatment of Assange, and to act in accordance with UK law and the country’s international human rights obligations.

RSF is concerned about Assange’s health. After visiting him in London’s Belmarsh prison on 9 May, UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer reported that Assange had been deliberately exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment that could be described as psychological torture.

Every day, news organisations rely on and publish classified information to serve the public interest. If the legal persecution of Assange continues, investigative journalism and press freedom will be the victims. 

As a matter of urgency, please sign this petition calling for the United Kingdom not to comply with the United States’ request to extradite Julian Assange. Share this appeal using the #FreeAssange hashtag!

*The “Collateral Murder” video published by WikiLeaks revealed that Reuters reporter Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver and assistant Saeed Chmagh were killed in Baghdad on 12 July 2007 by shots fired from a US helicopter.

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