Assange Saga a reminder for strong whistleblower laws

We do need Assanges in our midst, but where are the effective laws to protect them?
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange waves after landing at RAAF air base Fairbairn in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday, June 26 2024.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange waves after landing at RAAF air base Fairbairn in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday, June 26 2024.Photo | AP

Julian Assange, the 52-year-old founder of WikiLeaks, finally walked to freedom in the early hours of Wednesday after a 12-year ordeal. Assange, who had been fighting US efforts to extradite him from the UK where he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy during 2012-19 and in prison afterwards, had leaked over 7,00,000 classified documents and videos linked to alleged US war crimes.

These included the US military’s operating manual for its infamous detention camp in Guantanamo Bay and a classified US video of a July 2007 helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen civilians, including two journalists. The trove of leaked classified documents was aimed at exposing the US’s involvement in what Assange described as “compelling evidence of war crimes”.

For his whistleblowing and alleged role in breaching US security, Assange faced 18 charges and a maximum of 175 years in prison. In an unexpected bargain plea struck over the last few days, the Australian citizen pled guilty to a single espionage charge before a judge in Saipan, capital of the US territory of Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific, for a sentence of 62 months—which he has already served in the UK—before flying home.

Whether through Wikileaks or the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ exposés of the Panama, Pandora and Paradise papers, whistleblowing with credible evidence is a necessity in a democracy. It forces transparency and acts as a formidable weapon to inhibit corrupt practices that violate human rights, including the right to live.

But India does not have an effective central law to protect whistleblowers. The Whistle Blowers Protection Act passed through parliament in 2014 and got as far as the president’s assent, but did not come into force because of technicalities to do with national security.

The Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill 2015 tried to revive the effort and sought to prohibit the reporting of corruption-related disclosures under 10 categories, but it got stuck in the Rajya Sabha and subsequently lapsed.

A robust democracy needs protective laws encouraging citizens to step forward to expose malpractices in the government or in private enterprises. Only a few states in India have such policies. We do need Assanges in our midst, but where are the effective laws to protect them?

Related Stories

No stories found.

X
The New Indian Express
www.newindianexpress.com