Julian Assange: Enemy of Internet Freedom in Belarus

by Joseph W

Most people who support Wikileaks believe it is pro-freedom on the internet.

However, Wikileaks has provided time, advice, resources, support and credibility for a regime that suppresses internet activity: Belarus.

In 2007, President Lukashenko of Belarus complained there was too much political opposition on the Internet. In mid-2010, Lukashenko ratcheted up his control of the Internet even further, so he could monitor the activities of his opponents.

Clearly, Lukashenko is an enemy of internet freedom.

We learn from the Guardian that Julian Assange’s Wikileaks paid Israel Shamir €2,000 for his “services to journalism” as a representative of Wikileaks. Part of this role included Shamir’s now-infamous trip to Belarus, made in solidarity with the dictatorship in Minsk.

Shamir appeared in Belarus on December 19 2010, and met with the head of Lukashenko’s administration, Uladzimri Makei. Shamir was there as an “international observer“. He compared rioters to losing football fans.

You can watch a video of Shamir dismissing the riots in Minsk of December 19th. You can read Shamir praising Lukashenko and dismissing opposition concerns in Counterpunch.

On that same day, December 19 2010, Belarus’ Telegraf reported that state newspaper SB would soon begin publishing “declassified documents” about the Belarussian oppositon.

The head of state instructed the intelligence agencies to disclose the required documents immediately after the election on December 20. Published documents must “show the background of what happened, to name the organizers, instigators and rioters, including foreign ones, without compromise, as well as to disclose the financing scheme of the destructive organizations.”

The following day, SB published Shamir’s comments about the Minsk rioters, in solidarity with the Lukashenko regime.

Shamir then began peddling pro-Lukashenko propaganda in the Belarussian press, using Wikileaks cables to make his point. Four days after the Belarussian government’s meeting with Shamir, Lukashenko began speaking of his own “Wikileaks” brand.

Lukashenko’s hired hands had stolen documents from opposition figures from the Tell The Truth campaign, in order to intimidate them. He always said he would publish the documents. Yet after the regime’s meeting with Shamir, Lukashenko began to repackage this project as a version of Wikileaks.

As I wrote last month, Lukashenko invited Shamir to Belarus to get some ideas about how to best present his “leaks” to a watching world, and gain some bona-fide WikiLeaks credibility just weeks before publishing his own Luka-leaks.

Over time, unredacted cables leaked by Shamir on behalf of Wikileaks began appearing Belarussian state websites.

This week we learn how Julian Assange’s Wikileaks funded Israel Shamir’s trip to Belarus. I would say that makes Assange an enemy of internet freedom – in Belarus at least. Surely Wikileaks has some explaining to do here,  not least to those who imagine it to be a principled, pro-internet freedom outfit.

Julian Assange may say he believes in internet freedom, but Wikileaks’ actions in Belarus demonstrate otherwise.