In the wake of the recent U.S. presidential election, lawyers for Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, have revealed that they intend to appeal incoming president Donald Trump to end an ongoing criminal investigation into their client.
The investigation began in 2010 after WikiLeaks released controversial documents, supplied by U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning, relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Recent speculation into WikiLeaks’ release of emails related to the DNC and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton – seen by many as influencing the presidential election in President-elect Trump’s favor – has given rise to the notion that Assange may be pardoned and brought the topic of whistleblowing back into public discussion.
The media coverage given to Assange, Chelsea Manning and other whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden has resulted in unprecedented public attention to the trials faced by whistleblowers. Assange currently resides in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. After being questioned by Swedish police in relation to allegations of rape and molestation in 2012, Assange left the country without being charged and traveled to the United Kingdom. After Swedish authorities issued a warrant for his arrest and demanded his extradition, Assange applied for asylum in Ecuador, fearing the prospect of further extradition from Sweden to the United States. Although asylum was granted, Assange has been unable to leave the embassy due to the likelihood of his immediate arrest.
Assange’s self-imposed exile is mirrored by that of Snowden, currently living under asylum in an undisclosed location in Russia after leaking classified information from the NSA in 2013. Manning was sentenced in August 2013 to 35 years imprisonment after being convicted of violating the Espionage Act, stealing government property and numerous other offenses.
The treatment of these three individuals highlights the immense political and legal pressures faced by whistleblowers. Their actions, hailed by many as valuable acts of public service, are just as frequently argued to be selfish, treasonous, or “un-American.” The decision to come forward as a whistleblower means facing judgment in the court of media and public opinion, to be cast as both hero and dissident, morally upstanding citizen and traitor.
The visibility of WikiLeaks raises the plight of those who stand up for truth, morality and justice every day in companies, organizations and government entities throughout the country. We should be glad that public attention is being paid to the issue, but it is essential that whistleblowers of all magnitudes receive the legal and moral support and protection that they deserve.