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News: Julian Assange seeks asylum

Julian Assange

UPDATED

There have been so many developments in the Julian Assange/WikiLeaks story, that the whole affair has well-earned itself the label of ‘saga’. As well as the label of ‘confusing’.

The sorry tale gets more and more complicated by the day and the number of countries involved seems to be growing at an infinite rate – soon to rival the international diversity of a Miss Universe beauty pageant.

Let’s try and break it down. Our country’s starring role, comes about because Julian Assange is an Australian citizen, who has been hanging out in England of late (releasing cables, holding press conferences, you know – typical Aussie backpacker stuff).

Prior to being in the land of Duchess Kate and Elton John, Assange was in Sweden. He is currently facing serious allegations of sexual assault in Sweden (which he denies) and has been fighting against the decision of the British Supreme Court to extradite him back to the home of ABBA.

Assange claims that the sexual assault allegations are completely trumped up and that the extradition is simply an effort by the United States (country number 4, enter stage left!) to ultimately have him sent to their neck of the woods because they don’t have a legal basis on which to prosecute him over the WikiLeaks issue.

With that recap in mind – we enter the present day. Assange has now breached his bail and headed to Ecuador (see, this case really is a global tea party). Why was he allowed to get on a plane in the first place, you ask? Well he isn’t physically in Ecuador, he’s just entered their London-based Embassy but in a legal sense – it all means the same thing.

Assange is now seeking political asylum in Ecuador and his family are outraged that the Australian Government has not done more to help him. News.com.au reports that:

Assange went to the building near Harrods in the Knightsbridge section of London on Tuesday afternoon and requested asylum under the United Nations Human Rights Declaration. The country’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said in Quito the government was considering his request.

In a short statement, Assange said, “I can confirm that today I arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy and sought diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum. This application has been passed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital Quito. I am grateful to the Ecuadorian ambassador and the government of Ecuador for considering my application.”

The chain of events is a complicated one and has the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster, complete with special effects and a guest star appearance by Morgan Freeman as the American President (or God… sitting in judgement over the ethics of releasing confidential cables – whichever).

At its core, this story is really all about the release of the WikiLeaks cables themselves and whether Assange’s actions were illegal (unlikely) or simply unethical (still very much open to debate). And for us Aussies, there is also an added layer of intrigue. After all, this man is one of ours and when an Australian is in trouble overseas, there is a presumption that our Government will go to their aid.

The case is all over the news today, so if you’re after a more in-depth consideration of this chain of events, then Google will be your friend today. For those who have completely forgotten what WikiLeaks even is, then you should have a skim of our handy cheat sheet:

What is WikiLeaks?

It is an international non-profit media organisation that publishes submissions of otherwise unavailable documents from anonymous sources and leaks.

Where can I find it?

http://www.wikileaks.org/

When did it launch?

It launched in 2006 and within a year of its launch claimed a database of more than 1.2 million document

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What is its purpose ?

WikiLeaks promises every individual a forum to anonymously publish previously classified, hidden or sensitive documents and make them publicly available. Their goal is to bring important news and information to the public.

They provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to their  journalists (through an electronic drop box). One of their most important activities is to publish original source material alongside news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.

Who founded it?

It was founded by Chinese dissidents, as well as journalists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists from the U.S., Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. Julian Assange, an Australian journalist and Internet activist, as its director.

How does it work?

WikiLeaks accept (but do not solicit) anonymous sources of information.  They provide a high security anonymous drop box fortified by cutting-edge cryptographic information technologies. This provides maximum protection to their  sources.

When information comes in, journalists analyse the material, verify it and write a news piece about it describing its significance to society.  They then publish both the news story and the original material in order to enable readers to analyse the story in the context of the original source material themselves.

Do they reveal their sources?

WikiLeaks has never revealed any of its sources.

How do they verify their stories?

WikiLeaks puts every document through a very detailed examination procedure. They use traditional investigative journalism techniques as well as more modern technology-based methods.   Typically they will do a forensic analysis of the document, determine the cost of forgery, means, motive, opportunity, the claims of the apparent authoring organisation, and answer a set of other detailed questions about the document.

Publishing the original source material behind each of their stories is the way in which they show the public that their story is authentic.

Where is it based?

The site is based in Sweden.

Is WikiLeaks related to Wikipedia?

No. Though it has a similar name to Wikipedia, it is not part of Wikipedia or the WikiMedia Foundation

What has WikiLeaks exposed?

In April 2010, WikiLeaks posted video from a 2007 incident in which Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. forces, on a website called Collateral Murder. In July of the same year, WikiLeaks released Afghan War Diary, a compilation of more than 76,900 documents about the War in Afghanistan not previously available for public review. In October the group released a package of almost 400,000 documents called the Iraq War Logs in coordination with major commercial media organisations.

A full list of what they have exposed can be found here

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