A billboard van calling for an end to extradition proceedings against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange waits at traffic lights in Parliament Square in London in September 2021. Photo: AFP / David Cliff / NurPhoto

I am deeply concerned over the precedents the fallout from the situation involving the detention and potential extradition of Australian editor and publisher Julian Assange will set.

While the legal grounds for the charges against Assange bring up many important questions that should not be overlooked, we risk a more flagrant assault on the principles of international order, the free and open press, transparency, and accountability.

The boogieman image constructed around Assange is a monster created by the very states embarrassed through the leaks and exposés surfaced by him and WikiLeaks. These efforts demonstrate a failure to establish impartial structures and institutions that hold them to account and remain transparent to the people who elect them. 

Malaysia is one of these states, and we have much to do if we seek to reform our system and establish good governance.

If whistleblowers were not castigated, imprisoned, or stripped of their livelihoods for doing what they feel is morally right, these embarrassments could be avoided.

In such a reality, WikiLeaks would be rendered unnecessary. But until such reforms are put in place, we must respect the seekers of truth in a world continually overcome by misinformation, fake news, and conspiracy theories.

And, at this moment, we need more brave and moral journalists to conduct the oversight that WikiLeaks provides in our present vacuum of accountability.

Secrecy and confidentiality

While the Fourth Estate and the traditional loci of power have always been at odds with each other, a balance has been left unconsidered globally for far too long.

Levels of secrecy and confidentiality are important and necessary for running a nation in our international, globalized system, and if a more equipoise relationship existed between the press and governments, a byproduct of good governance, then a system of checks and balances would allow watchdogs and whistleblowers to maintain transparency without compromising national security or the privacy of individuals.

I appeal to compassion that the harassment and persecution of Assange be ceased immediately. 

I put my full support behind the wave of press-freedom, civil-liberties, and international human-rights advocacy organizations calling for the US Department of Justice to drop its charges against Assange.

Otherwise, we might as well toss in the bin any dedication we once held to press freedom, transparency, and the belief in the democratic institutions we have crafted.

While I cannot say that I fully endorse Assange’s views or speak to his methods or record, as the British writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote of Voltaire, a French father of enlightenment thinking, I may “disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

But the issues surrounding Assange’s situation speak beyond the status of one man; this is a matter of the dignity of democracy. 

If we are to dream of justice in our futures, we need to regard the limitations we put upon our journalists and respect the work they do.

This article appeared previously at Malaysiakini.

Anwar Ibrahim

Anwar Ibrahim is the Malaysian leader of the opposition.