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Editorial : Assange Finally Free From Persecution

【明報專訊】After years of imprisonment, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is finally free and back in his home country Australia.

Established in 2006, WikiLeaks is described by Assange and his supporters as a non-profit international online media group that aims to ensure that governments, businesses and institutions operate transparently by releasing confidential documents and information provided by anonymous sources and insiders.

Over the years, WikiLeaks has released a wealth of explosive insider information and materials. Among these, the 2010–11 revelation of the US's diplomatic and military scandals was the most sensational. The group made public hundreds of thousands of confidential papers related to the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, as well as prisoners at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, exposing indiscriminate killings, torture towards prisoners and other acts by the US Armed Forces.

US investigators later discovered that some of the confidential military and diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks had been provided by Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst serving in the US Army. The US described such a leak of national security secrets as the largest in the country's history, stating that the leak had put US military intelligence personnel and local informants in danger and jeopardised US security. It also accused Assange of taking part in helping Manning obtain the documents illegally.

Assange argues that the exposé was aimed at bringing the truth to light, and that it should be protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution regarding freedom of speech and press. Yet the reality was another story. Even though Assange has always been outside of American soil, Washington capitalised on its enormous influence over allies and pursued him for over a decade.

First, the Swedish authorities suddenly issued a cross-border arrest warrant for Assange over a so-called "sexual assault case". In the UK at that time, Assange worried that he would fall into the traps of the law and be extradited to the US. He fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy to seek political asylum, and stayed there for seven years, living within the confines of the embassy in a way that was tantamount to house arrest. May 2017 saw a change of government in Ecuador, with the new president reversing his predecessor's anti-American stance. Later, Assange was expelled and fell into the custody of the British police.

The irony is that the release of Assange now actually also results from political compromise. There have long been voices among Australian politicians to rescue Assange; with the date of his extradition to the US imminent, the incumbent Australian government has intensively lobbied the Biden administration behind the scenes to give Assange mercy. US diplomats would not like the Assange problem to impede Australia's relationship with the US and the UK, the BBC has reported.

Last August, the US Ambassador to Australia proposed a plea agreement for the first time to resolve the incident. In March this year, the British court processing Assange's appeal required Washington to make a series of guarantees, including that Assange had the right to invoke the First Amendment of the US Constitution and that he would not face the death penalty. Otherwise, it would allow Assange to continue his appeal against extradition. For Assange, these marked a long-awaited reversal of his fate.

Assange and his actions are controversial in many ways. Nevertheless, the torture he has been subjected to over the past decade or so has left a deep mark on his physical and mental health.

明報社評2024.06.27:揭露美國惡行招打壓 阿桑奇為真相付代價

維基解密創辦人阿桑奇經歷多年囚禁,終於重獲自由返回祖家澳洲。

維基解密2006年創立,阿桑奇及其支持者形容,維基解密是一個非牟利的國際網絡媒體,旨在透過公開一些由匿名來源、內部知情人士提供的機密文件和資料,使政府、企業及組織在陽光下運作。

維基解密多年來發布過大量爆炸性的內幕消息和材料,當中又以2010至2011年大爆美國外交軍事醜聞最為轟動。維基解密先後公開數十萬份關於阿富汗戰爭、伊拉克戰爭,以及美軍關塔那摩基地囚犯的機密文件,揭示美軍濫殺虐囚等行為。

美方調查人員事後發現,維基解密公開的軍事外交機密文件,部分來自陸軍情報分析員曼寧(Chelsea Manning)。美方形容這是美國史上最大宗泄露國安機密案,外泄材料令美國軍情人員及當地線人身陷險境,危害美國安全,又指阿桑奇有份協助曼寧非法取得有關文件。

阿桑奇認為當日揭弊只是為了讓真相公之於世,應該得到美國憲法第一修正案有關言論及新聞自由的保障,然而現實卻是另一回事。即使阿桑奇一直身處美國境外,華府卻運用其對盟友的巨大影響力,10多年來一直向阿桑奇窮追猛打。

先是瑞典當局突然以所謂「性侵案」下令跨國通緝,當時身在英國的阿桑奇,擔心墮入司法圈套會被引渡到美國,躲進厄瓜多爾大使館尋求政治庇護,一住就是7年,過着寸步不能離開大使館的生活,跟「軟禁」沒兩樣,直至2017年5月厄瓜多爾政府換屆,新總統一改前任反美路線,阿桑奇後來被逐,落到英國警方手中。

諷刺是阿桑奇現在重獲自由,實際也是政治妥協產物。澳洲政界一直有人主張營救阿桑奇,隨着阿桑奇引渡赴美大限將至,現屆澳洲政府在幕後密密游說拜登政府放過阿桑奇。英國BBC報道,美國外交界不希望阿桑奇問題影響澳洲與美英的關係。

去年8月,美國駐澳大使首度提出以「認罪協議」解決事件,及至今年3月,英國法院處理阿桑奇上訴申請,要求華府先作一系列保證,包括阿桑奇有援引美國憲法第一修正案的權利,以及不會面臨死刑,否則將批准阿桑奇繼續上訴反對引渡。阿桑奇的命運,終於迎來轉機。

阿桑奇其人其事不乏爭議,但無論如何,這10多年的折騰,已對其身心健康留下了極深烙印。

■Glossary 生字 /

sensational : causing great surprise, excitement, or interest

exposé : an account of the facts of a situation, especially when these are shocking or have deliberately been kept secret

leave a mark (on sth/sb) : to have an effect on sth/sb, especially a bad one, that lasts for a long time

■休刊小啟:英文版將於7月1日(下周一)起休刊。編輯部

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