Charter 97 and the Zimbabwe Mail on Wikileaks

by Joseph W

Roy Greenslade wrote in the Guardian (30/12):

I reported 10 days ago on the police beating handed out to Belarus editor Natalia Radzina. Though rescued by friends at the time, she was subsequently arrested.

Now there are reports of her suffering from ill-treatment in jail. According to a lawyer who visited her in jail, her ears were bleeding. Radzina, left, is charged with organising mass riots, a charge related to the protests by thousands of people in Minsk on 19 December against the allegedly rigged re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko’s.

Radzina, editor-in-chief of, was arrested along with all her co-workers at the website’s editorial offices.

That is not Israel Shamir’s take on the Belarussian authorities. He writes in Counterpunch:

It will take you a long time before you spot your first policeman, usually a simple traffic cop. There is no sign of a police state here: no mysterious black cars, no furtive stillness, no Soviet-style drabness, no post-Soviet garishness. The youngsters are stylish, friendly and open. The streets are crowded, paved and clean. The President of Belarus, the man the US State Department calls the last dictator of Europe, walks freely among his people.

No mention of Radzina or the Charter97 arrests.

Shamir also writes:

The pro-Western ‘Gucci’ crowd can always be counted on to protest the choices of the majority. They actually overturned the vote in nearby Ukraine in 2005, and the orange gangs succeeded in stealing the presidency for five long years. If they cannot convince the people with Western dollars, then they simply riot and try to take it by force.

This is what Shamir – the Wikileaks rep in Eastern Europe – says of Wikileaks’ role in Belarus:

Wikileaks has now revealed how this undeclared cash flows from US coffers to the Belarus “opposition”. In the confidential cable VILNIUS 000732, dated June 12, 2005, an American diplomat informs the State Department that Lithuanian customs detained a Belarusian employee of a USAID contractor on charges of money smuggling. The courier was arrested as she attempted to leave Lithuania for Belarus with US$25,000. In addition, she admitted that had moved a total of US$50,000 out of Lithuania on two prior trips.

In case it’s not obvious by now, these dollars are just the tip of the iceberg of cash that flows from US taxpayers to fund the Belarus opposition. A Lithuanian official boasted that the Government of Lithuania “uses a variety of individuals and routes to send money to groups in Belarus, including its diplomats”.  Lukashenko has always maintained that the US has spent millions of dollars to dismantle the government of tiny Belarus. Western officials automatically denied it. The Western press ridiculed it: BLOODY DICTATOR BLAMES OPPOSITION ON YANKEE MEDDLING. The proof is written in a confidential cable from a US Embassy to the US State Department. It is undeniable.

Have a read the cable ‘VILNIUS 000732‘ – in English at the bottom of the page. The key bit of the cable which damns the US is this:

The money was intended for use by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), which operates a USAID-funded project in Belarus.

IREX is a US-based NGO which receives US aid, which focuses on global education and free media. IREX was originally established to make possible academic exchanges between American universities and those in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  This is hardly proof that it the CIA is channeling money to Belarussian dissidents and opposition parties, as Shamir and Lukashenko suggest.

Just as with the Estonia cables, Shamir is intentionally distorting what the US cables actually say.

Remember, this is not just Shamir making claims on the internet, but Shamir has actually met with Belarussian officials on behalf of Wikileaks, claiming that the VILNIUS 000732 cable and others damn the Belarussian opposition.

Charter97 are now drawing attention to Shamir’s outrageous piece in Counterpunch:

Wikileaks defend their actions by citing freedom of expression and freedom of information, yet their conduct is leading to others being heavily censored.

Elsewhere, the Zimbabwe Mail comments on Cablegate’s impact in Zimbabwe:

Obviously, Mugabe can use the American appraisal of Tsvangirai to discredit him, to publicly question his abilities as a leader. That would be a rational politician’s use for this information. Robert Mugabe is not a rational politician. He is completely capable of using this information to order Tsvangirai’s arrest for treason, consorting with a foreign power to overthrow the “legitimately elected” government of Zimbabwe. A show trial and a firing squad would be the only outcome if Mugabe chooses this route.

Wikileaks may have just signed Morgan Tsvangirai’s death warrant. It will take an enormous effort on the part of the diplomatic corps of many nations to prevent that. This isn’t a question of simply insulting some leader by gossiping about him being a dirty old man or questioning his self-esteem issues because of his penchant for press releases bordering on beefcake calendars. These cables can be twisted into a charge of treason that will cost a human life.

Too many people are enamored of the idea of transparency, the public’s right to know, freedom of the press. These are wonderful concepts in the abstract. Real journalists know that they must be balanced against protecting the innocent and not making situations worse than they already are.

This is why CNN’s Baghdad bureau withheld information for years about Saddam Hussein’s regime. They chose to protect lives, even at the cost of not reporting the whole truth. Wikileaks is not capable of making that choice. They are not journalists. They are a bunch of hackers, amateurs and idealists who were handed the mother lode of secret documents and haven’t a clue what to do with them to create the most good with the least damage.

Yet, given what is gradually emerging about Wikileaks and Julian Assange’s worldview, it is becoming increasingly impossible to consider Wikileaks as merely clueless.

Instead, Assange’s intent appears to be: to mark out political actors in ‘countries that have sustained political turmoil‘ [sic] who are dialogue with the USA as traitors, then sit back and watch the drama unfold.