Media, Politics

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, the man on the run

By Sipho Hlongwane 30 November 2010

Ever since he embarked on a career of successfully making many powerful enemies around the world, Julian Assange's life gained the dimension many of us hope never to experience: the one of being the constant fugitive. And as more countries fall prey to WikiLeaks, the net around him may soon become really tight. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

In October, The New York Times met with the prominent WikiLeaks insider for an interview. The insider sketched Assange as a  man wracked with paranoia and perhaps just a touch of delusional grandeur.

“He demands that his dwindling number of loyalists use expensive encrypted cellphones and swaps his own the way other men change shirts,” The New York Times said. “He checks into hotels under false names, dyes his hair, sleeps on sofas and floors, and uses cash instead of credit cards, often borrowed from friends.”

Assange may no longer be welcome in his own country. In March 2009, the Australian government blacklisted part of the WikiLeaks site, imposing an AUD $11,000-a-day fine on websites that linked to it. In an article on ZDNet on 29 November, it emerged that the Australian Communications and Media Authority had subsequently removed WikiLeaks from this list.

The attorney-general of Australia, Robert McClelland said the site (containing almost 1,000 documents which originated from the US embassy in Canberra) may have broken a number of the country’s laws. “From Australia’s point of view, we think there are potentially a number of criminal laws that could have been breached,” McClelland said. He also hinted that Assange’s passport may be frozen.

The October meeting between Assange and the NYT happened in London. He has previously lived in various countries across Africa and Europe, never settling in one place for an extended time. Since the Iraqi War Logs leak, Assange has refused to set foot in the US, fearing arrest by federal authorities.

In August, he sought refuge in Sweden after the release of the Afghan War Diaries, seeking to protect WikiLeaks under the country’s laws protecting whistleblowers. However, a short while into his stay in Sweden, the world was stunned to learn that an arrest warrant had been issued for the 39-year-old Australian, on one count of rape and another of sexual molestation. The warrant and charges for rape were dropped shortly after, but the molestation charge still stands. Assange and his loyalists labelled the charges as a “dirty trick”. Later, Assange walked out of a CNN interview when the question of his legal troubles in Sweden arose.

Watch: Julian Assange walks out of CNN interview.

Due to the nature of the latest release, the places in the world where Assange is welcome may soon become a bare handful, as nations he has embarrassed shun his presence. He is reportedly in Jordan at present – ironically, one of the chief allies of the US in the Middle East.

The man who is called “the James Bond of journalism” is playing a hide-and-seek game that is increasingly reminiscent of that of the international terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, more commonly known as Carlos the Jackal, who spent almost 20 years on the run from international security organisations after he masterminded a string of terrorist attacks for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He then spent the 1980s bouncing around Eastern bloc countries, and received aid from the Stasi, the East German secret police, to carry out terrorist attacks in the West, most notably in France. He was eventually arrested in 1994 after undergoing an operation in Khartoum, Sudan, and is currently serving life imprisonment in France for the murder of two policemen and an informant in 1975.

Carlos the Jackal’s reputation for foiling agents trying to capture him was immortalised in a slew of books, movies and a TV series that featured characters based on him. Although Assange is not a wanted international terrorist, his habit of glancing over his shoulder wherever he goes, his 007-like personal foibles and habit of bouncing around countries may craft him as a legend much like Carlos the Jackal. Provided he manages to stay one step ahead of those looking for him, of course. DM

Read more: AFP via Herald Sun, Sydney Morning Herald, The New York Times, The Daily Maverick.

Photo: Julian Assange at a news conference at the Geneva Press Club in Geneva, November 4, 2010. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud


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