Press Release No. 18/2010
Date: 9 December 2010
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the political backlash being mounted against the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks and accused the United States (US) of “attacking free speech after it put pressure on the website’s host server to shut down the site on 1 December 2010”.
The Valletta-based Institute of Maltese Journalists ((IGM), the sole IFJ affiliate in Malta, has associated itself with the IFJ’s statement.
The IFJ explained how the website’s host, Amazon.com, had blocked access last week to WikiLeaks after US officials had condemned the torrent of revelations about political, business and diplomatic affairs “that has given people around the world unprecedented access to detailed information from United States sources, much of it embarrassing to leading public figures”.
Since then, the service had been resumed using servers in Sweden and a Swiss domain name, wikileaks.ch and hundreds of mirror sites have been registered globally to prevent the sensitive content from being taken down.
“It is unacceptable to try to deny people the right to know,” IFJ Secretary General Aidan White insisted.
“These revelations may be embarrassing in their detail, but they also expose corruption and double dealing in public life that is worthy of public scrutiny. The response of the United States is desperate and dangerous because it goes against fundamental principles of free speech and democracy,” the IFJ Secretary General added.
“Following on this trend, Paypal, Mastercard, Visa and the Swiss Post office have also stopped supplying services to WikiLeaks, claiming that the whistleblowing website was offering “illegal” services for disclosing classified information,” the IGM Council lamented.
The IFJ had taken no position on the justification for the release of hundreds of thousands of internal documents, which have made headlines around the world, in the past few days, but it had welcomed the decision of WikiLeaks “to use respected channels of journalism, including Der Spiegel, The Guardian, the New York Times and El Pais, to filter the information.
“This information is being processed by serious, professional journalists, who are well aware of their responsibilities both to the public and to people implicated in these revelations,” insisted White.
“It is simply untenable to allege, as some people have, that lives are being put at risk here. The only casualty here is the culture of secrecy that has for too long drawn a curtain around the unsavoury side of public life,” he added.
The IFJ also expressed concern about the welfare and well-being of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, and Bradley Manning, the US soldier in Iraq who was under arrest on suspicion of leaking the information.
“Both men are the target of a growing political campaign mounted by government officials and right-wing politicians,” the IFJ lamented.
Assange was arrested on Tuesday in London after having been hit with a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) on allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden, which defence lawyers had described as “politically-motivated”.
“Human rights campaigners have expressed concern that the extradition of Assange to Sweden might be a double-hop journey to the US, since the US has an extradition treaty with Sweden,” the IGM Council insisted.
The IFJ insisted that calls by right-wing commentators for Manning to be executed and for Assange to be hunted down as a spy, as demanded by former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, showed “a mood of intolerance and persecution that is dangerous not just for the two men but for all journalists engaged in investigating public affairs”.
“The IFJ and its members support the rights of whistleblowers and the responsible reporting of information in the public interest,” said White. “This over-reaction by politicians and their allies illustrates that they have not understood the historical significance of these events.
“The people’s right to know is not something that can be wilfully ignored any longer. They have to adjust to the fact that journalists have a duty to report, fairly and accurately, and with due respect for the rights of all parties in the public interest,” the IFJ concluded its statement.