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WikiLeaks: Is information a crime?

Some would certainly like to answer yes to this, describing the organisation as illegal and dangerous. Others think WikiLeaks should be rewarded with a Nobel Prize, for its efforts for Freedom of Information.

Julian Assange

Julian Assange, spokesperson and director of WikiLeaks

Since the organisation was launched in 2007 it generated a number of controversial headlines by releasing previously unpublished and sensitive documents. We are not talking about a few drops here, but rather heavy showers of information. In its first year WikiLeaks claimed to have a database containing more than 1.2 million documents. Most of it considered confidential, some of it secret.

The information is mostly leaked by anonymous sources, who see a need for disclosure in the public interest. The topics range from corruption and war to corporations, ecology and freedom of speech.

One of the latest releases caused outrage in the US government. On 28 November WikiLeaks and five major international newspapers simultaneously published confidential diplomatic cables from 274 embassies dated from 1966–2010.

The contents include numerous unguarded comments and revelations such as dealings between various countries, actions in the War on Terror, US Intelligence efforts and other senstitive diplomatic actions. Despite serious criticism by the US, WikiLeaks plans to release the entirety of 251,287 cables within the next months.

Criticism and praise to WikiLeaks has been equally overwhelming. The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard stated that she “absolutely condemns” Wikileaks actions and that the release of information on the site was “grossly irresponsible” and “illegal.”

Peter King, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee of the United States House of Representatives, has stated his support for listing WikiLeaks as a “foreign terrorist organisation” explaining that “WikiLeaks presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.”

In April 2010, WikiLeaks posted a video from a 2007 incident in which Iraqi civilians and journalists were killed by U.S. forces

On the other hand the organisation has won a number of awards, including the 2008 Economist magazine New Media Award and Amnesty International’s UK Media Award, in the category “New Media” in 2008. Julian Assange, who is the spokesperson and director of WikiLeaks, has been suggested by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev as a Nobel Prize laureate.

WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation, which says its goal is to bring important news and information to the public. They state on their website: “The broader principles on which our work is based are the defence of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history.”

In particular the organisation grounds on Article 19 of the Human Rights Declaration, which states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Naturally governments and organisation, which are negatively affected by the publications, are opposing it strongly. But the question arises how far the freedom of speech reaches, even in stable democracies. Can it really considered to be a crime to reveal information? Don’t we have the right to know about the wrong-doings of governments and other organisations, which might have an essential affect on peoples lives and even our own lives?

WikiLeaks represents an enormous pond of information, which is of high value for journalists to help them to do what they are supposed to: Informing the public about important issues, which is the best stabilizer for a healthy democracy.


Julian Assange, the spokesperson of WikiLeaks, on the Afghan War Logs

An excerpt of John Pilger’s new documentary “The War You Don’t See”, including an interview with Julian Assange

Hilary Clinton condemns WikiLeaks


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