As Assange is arrested, US celebrates "World Press Freedom"
SOMETIMES TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Today, just hours after embattled Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange was arrested on a dodgy rape charge in London, and with the possibility looming that the US government will attempt to file charges against him and even extradite him for leaking diplomatic cables to the world press and the Internet, word came from the State Department that “The United States is pleased to announce that it will host Unesco’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from 1-3 May in Washington, DC.”
The announcement says:
The theme for next year’s commemoration will be 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers. The United States places technology and innovation at the forefront of its diplomatic and development efforts. New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression.
The State Department goes on to say that
At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age.
Regarding the event itself, the Unesco website tells us the following:
Every 3 May World Press Freedom Day represents an opportunity to commemorate the fundamental principles of press freedom around the globe and to pay solemn tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Public figures in the US, including likely presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, are calling for Assange’s prosecution, execution, and even assassination. In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal today, US Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote that Assange “should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage” under the Espionage Act of 1917, calling him “an agitator intent on damaging our government, whose policies he happens to disagree with, regardless of who gets hurt.”
They hate us for our freedoms:
World War I recruitment poster
The Espionage Act grew out of the hysteria and red-baiting of the First World War era, and was used to prosecute such antiwar activists as the Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debbs, the poet E.E. Cummings, the novelist William Slater Brown, and later Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, and to silence countless others. Both this law and the subsequent Sedition Act of 1918 legalized snooping through the US Postal Service as well as the Palmer Raids against alleged subversives, in the course of which some 3,000 persons were arrested for the crime of holding and expressing a dissenting opinion. Hardly a triumph for "freedom and democracy."
So let’s all stage a party on May 1-3 and celebrate our freedoms, for which, we are told, our enemies hate us so much. I’m sure glad the US government is protecting my right to free expression and the “free flow of information” by any means necessary – including a ninety-two year-old law designed to terrorize opponents of the insane and murderous First World War – even if it has to “censor and silence individuals” to do so. Aren’t you?
Julian Assange on the cover of the
current Time Magazine
For more on the Assange case, see my essay Assange and Co.: A Brief History of "Honey Traps"