Julian Assange on Israel Shamir in Belarus

by Joseph W

The Guardian reports:

Assange defended one of WikiLeaks’ collaborators, Israel Shamir, following claims Shamir passed sensitive cables to Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko has arrested 600 opposition supporters and journalists since Sunday’s presidential election. The whereabouts and fate of several of the president’s high-profile opponents are unknown.

Of Shamir, Assange said: “WikiLeaks works with hundreds of journalists from different regions of the world. All are required to sign non-disclosure agreements and are generally only given limited review access to material relating to their region. We have no reason to believe these rumours in relation to Belarus are true.”

From his response, I don’t think Assange is aware of what has actually happened regarding Wikileaks in Belarus.

Last week, Charter97 reported that Israel Shamir met with the head of Belarus’ Presidential administration, Uladzimri Makei. Here, Shamir claimed to be Assange’s representative. Makei and the Belarussian authorities also recognised Shamir as representing Wikileaks.

As Index on Censorship reports, the entire Charter 97 staff is being held by the KGB:

Charter97 is one of the few independent media sources in the entire of Belarus. Its entire staff has been arrested by the KGB. Amongst those arrested include Natasha Radzina, editor, and Dimitri Bondarenko. Radzina returned to her flat after police severely beat her at the opposition rally in Independence Square, Minsk. Her flat was stormed in the early hours in this morning and she is now being held by the KGB. No one has been able to make contact with her since.

Further to his meeting with Makei, Shamir was in Belarus as an international observer. In this role, Shamir praised the Belarussian elections, complained that the Belarussian opposition was aligned with the USA, and downplayed the crackdown on opposition protesters, claiming that the CIA tries to make repressive governments look bad.

Ordinarily, Shamir would be shunned as a Holocaust-denying nutter. But it seems that Shamir has been using his role in Wikileaks to make him appear a more credible journalist. In an interview with Interfax, Shamir claims that Assange approached him first.

Following the meeting with Belarussian authorities, we learned from Radio Free Europe:

At a press conference today, during which the hardline ruler voiced no remorse for ordering police to beat protesters during post-election demonstrations, Lukashenka announced the upcoming publication of classified documents that he says will demonstrate the nature of interactions between the Belarusian opposition and the West.

Russian news agencies quoted him as saying, “We’re simply going to publish certain documents. We’ll see how those who are published on the Belarusian WikiLeaks site — the supporters [of the opposition] and those who are working behind the scenes — react to this.”

“We will publish all the documents that should be classified in the archives as ‘secret.’ These are historically important events,” he said.

This is really, really serious.

Shamir is putting Wikileaks information into the hands of a repressive, authoritarian regime that opposes the clear, democratic process. Furthermore, the Lukashenko regime heavily censors the internet – something Wikileaks is opposed to.

If Shamir is being presented as the official Wikileaks rep, then it gives the Lukashenko regime a huge credibility boost.

Soon, Lukashenko’s government hope to release their own “leaks” which “prove” links between the Belarussian opposition and the USA. Following the meeting with Shamir, Lukashenko can now claim to have an authentic link with Wikileaks.

The information will likely be used to justify more repression.

Assange must rethink his comments. Urgently.