Who is Julian Assange, the polarizing founder of the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks?

Who is Julian Assange, the polarizing founder of the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks?
This handout courtesy of the WikiLeaks X account @wikileaks posted on June 25, 2024 shows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange looking out of the window as his plane from London approaches Bangkok for a layover at Don Mueang International Airport in the Thai capital. (AFP/courtesy of the WikiLeaks X account @wikileaks)
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Updated 25 June 2024
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Who is Julian Assange, the polarizing founder of the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks?

Who is Julian Assange, the polarizing founder of the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks?
  • Assange drew global attention in 2010 publishing war logs and diplomatic cables detailing US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • He is seen either as a persecuted hero for open and transparent government, or a villain who put American lives at risk 

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: He emerged on the information security scene in the 1990s as a “famous teenage hacker” following what he called an ” itinerant minstrel childhood” beginning in Townsville, Australia. But the story of Julian Assange, eccentric founder of secret-spilling website WikiLeaks, never became less strange — or less polarizing — after he jolted the United States and its allies by revealing secrets of how America conducted its wars.
Since Assange drew global attention in 2010 for his work with prominent news outlets to publish war logs and diplomatic cables that detailed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other matters, he has provoked fervor among his admirers and loathing from his detractors with little in-between — seen either as a persecuted hero for open and transparent government, or a villain who put American lives at risk by aiding its enemies, and prompting fraught debates about state secrecy and freedom of the press.
Assange, 52, grew up attending “37 schools” before he was 14 years old, he wrote on his now-deleted blog. The details in it are not independently verifiable and some of Assange’s biographical details differ between accounts and interviews. A memoir published against his will in 2011, after he fell out with his ghostwriter, described him as the son of roving puppeteers, and he told The New Yorker in 2010 that his mother’s itinerant lifestyle barred him from a consistent or complete education. But by the age of 16, in 1987, he had his first modem, he told the magazine. Assange would burst forth as an accomplished hacker who with his friends broke into networks in North America and Europe.
In 1991, aged 20, Assange hacked a Melbourne terminal for a Canadian telecommunications company, leading to his arrest by the Australian Federal Police and 31 criminal charges. After pleading guilty to some counts, he avoided jail time after the presiding judge attributed his crimes to merely “intelligent inquisitiveness and the pleasure of being able to – what’s the expression? – surf through these various computers.”
He later studied mathematics and physics at university, but did not complete a degree. By 2006, when he founded WikiLeaks, Assange’s delight at being able to traverse locked computer systems seemingly for fun developed into a belief that, as he wrote on his blog, “only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what’s actually going on.”
In the year of WikiLeaks’ explosive 2010 release of half a million documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the non-profit organization’s website was registered in Sweden and its legal entity in Iceland. Assange was “living in airports,” he told The New Yorker; he claimed his media company, with no paid staff, had hundreds of volunteers.
He called his work a kind of “scientific journalism,” Assange wrote in a 2010 op-ed in The Australian newspaper, in which readers could check reporting against the original documents that had prompted a story. Among the most potent in the cache of files published by WikiLeaks was video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.
Assange was not anti-war, he wrote in The Australian.
“But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies,” he said. “If a war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it.”
US prosecutors later said documents published by Assange included the names of Afghans and Iraqis who provided information to American and coalition forces, while the diplomatic cables he released exposed journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates and dissidents in repressive countries.
Assange said in a 2010 interview that it was “regrettable” that sources disclosed by WikiLeaks could be harmed, prosecutors said. Later, after a State Department legal adviser informed him of the risk to “countless innocent individuals” compromised by the leaks, Assange said he would work with mainstream news organizations to redact the names of individuals. WikiLeaks did hide some names but then published 250,000 cables a year later without hiding the identities of people named in the papers.
Weeks after the release of the largest document cache in 2010, a Swedish prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Assange based on one woman’s allegation of rape and another’s allegation of molestation.
Assange has always denied the accusations and, from Britain, fought efforts to extradite him to Sweden for questioning. He decried the allegations as a smear campaign and an effort to move him to a jurisdiction where he might be extradited to the US
When his appeal against the extradition to Sweden failed, he breached his bail imposed in Britain and presented himself to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he claimed asylum on the grounds of political persecution. There followed seven years in self-exile inside the embassy — and one of the most unusual chapters in an already strange tale.
Refusing to go outside, where British police awaited him around the clock, Assange made occasional forays onto the embassy’s balcony to address supporters.
With a sunlamp and running machine helping to preserve his health, he told The Associated Press and other reporters in 2013, he remained in the news due to a stream of celebrity visitors, including Lady Gaga and the designer Vivienne Westwood. Even his cat became famous.
He also continued to run WikiLeaks and mounted an unsuccessful Australian senate campaign in 2013 with the newly founded WikiLeaks party. Before a constant British police presence around the embassy was removed in 2015, it cost UK taxpayers millions of dollars.
But relations with his host country soured, and the Ecuadorian Embassy severed his Internet access after posts Assange made on social media. In 2019, his hosts revoked his asylum, allowing British police to arrest him.
Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said he decided to evict Assange from the embassy after “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols.” He later lashed out at him during a speech in Quito, calling the Australian native a “spoiled brat” who treated his hosts with disrespect.
Assange was arrested and jailed on a charge of breaching bail conditions and spent the next five years in prison as he continued to fight his extradition to the United States.
In 2019, the US government unsealed an indictment against Assange and added further charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents. Prosecutors said he conspired with US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning had served seven years of a 35-year military sentence before receiving a commutation from then-President Barack Obama.
At the time, Australia’s then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had no plans to intervene in Assange’s case, calling it a matter for the US The same year, Swedish prosecutors dropped the rape allegation against Assange because too much time had elapsed since the accusation was made over nine years earlier.
As the case over his extradition wound through the British courts over the following years, Assange remained in Belmarsh Prison, where, his wife told the BBC on Tuesday, he was in a “terrible state” of health.
Assange married his partner, Stella Moris, in jail in 2022, after a relationship that began during Assange’s years in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Assange and the South Africa-born lawyer have two sons, born in 2017 and 2019.


Biden, 81, pulls out of US presidential race, will serve out term

Biden, 81, pulls out of US presidential race, will serve out term
Updated 21 July 2024
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Biden, 81, pulls out of US presidential race, will serve out term

Biden, 81, pulls out of US presidential race, will serve out term
  • By dropping his reelection bid, Biden clears the way for Vice President Kamala Harris to run at the top of the ticket
  • It was unclear whether other senior Democrats would challenge Harris, seen as pick for many, for party’s nomination

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden ended his reelection campaign on Sunday after fellow Democrats lost faith in his mental acuity and ability to beat Donald Trump, leaving the presidential race in uncharted territory.
Biden, in a post on X, said he will remain in his role as president and commander-in-chief until his term ends in January 2025 and will address the nation this week.
“It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as your President. And while it has been my intention to seek reelection, I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as President for the remainder of my term,” Biden wrote.
By dropping his reelection bid, he clears the way for Vice President Kamala Harris to run at the top of the ticket, the first Black woman to do so in the country’s history.
Biden, 81, did not mention her when he announced his move.
It was unclear whether other senior Democrats would challenge Harris for the party’s nomination, who was widely seen as the pick for many party officials — or whether the party itself would choose to open the field for nominations.
Biden’s announcement follows a wave of public and private pressure from Democratic lawmakers and party officials to quit the race after his shockingly poor performance in a televised debate last month against Republican rival Donald Trump.


Biden pulls out of presidential race, will serve out term

Biden pulls out of presidential race, will serve out term
Updated 39 min 37 sec ago
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Biden pulls out of presidential race, will serve out term

Biden pulls out of presidential race, will serve out term
  • Clears way for Vice President Kamala Harris to run atop Democrat ticket
  • President did not mention VP in announcement

WASHINGTON DC: US President Joe Biden ended his reelection campaign on Sunday after fellow Democrats lost faith in his mental acuity and ability to beat Donald Trump, but did not immediately endorse Vice President Kamal Harris to replace him as candidate.
Biden, 81, in a post on X, said he will remain in his role as president and commander-in-chief until his term ends in January 2025 and will address the nation this week.

“It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as your President. And while it has been my intention to seek reelection, I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as President for the remainder of my term,” Biden wrote.
His move could clear the way for Harris to run at the top of the ticket, the first Black woman to do so in the country’s history. But Biden did not mention her in his announcement.

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It was unclear whether other senior Democrats would challenge Harris for the party’s nomination, who was widely seen as the pick for many party officials — or whether the party itself would choose to open the field for nominations.
Biden’s announcement follows a wave of public and private pressure from Democratic lawmakers and party officials to quit the race after his shockingly poor performance in a June 27 televised debate last month against Republican rival Trump, 78.
Biden’s failure at times to complete clear sentences took the public spotlight away from Trump’s performance, in which he made a string of false statements, and trained it instead on questions surrounding Biden’s fitness for another 4-year term.
Days later he raised fresh concerns in an interview, shrugging off Democrats’ worries and a widening gap in opinion polls, and saying he would be fine losing to Trump if he knew he’d “gave it my all.”
His gaffes at a NATO summit — invoking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name when he meant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and calling Harris “Vice President Trump” -further stoked anxieties.
Only four days before Sunday’s announcement, Biden was diagnosed with COVID-19 for a third time, forcing him to cut short a campaign trip to Las Vegas. More than one in 10 congressional Democrats had called publicly for him to quit the race.
Biden’s historic move — the first sitting president to give up his party’s nomination for re-election since President Lyndon Johnson in March 1968 — leaves his replacement with less than four months to wage a campaign.


Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests

Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests
Updated 21 July 2024
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Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests

Top court in Bangladesh scales back job quota system after deadly protests
  • More than 100 people killed, thousands injured in clashes between police and students
  • Police on ‘highest alert’ as curfew remains in place after hearing

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Sunday scrapped most of the quotas on government jobs that had sparked nationwide unrest in the country and resulted in deadly clashes between police and student protesters that killed more than 100 people in the past week.

University students have been demonstrating on campuses since the beginning of July to demand a reformation of the quota system that reserved 30 percent of government jobs for relatives of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war.

The government abolished the quotas after student protests in 2018, but it was reinstated by Bangladesh’s High Court last month, setting off a new round of demonstrations that was met with a harsh crackdown, including a curfew and a communications blackout that left the country of 170 million people cut off from the world.

Ruling on an appeal, Attorney General AM Amin Uddin said the Supreme Court had ordered for the quota reserved for veterans to be cut to 5 percent and for 93 percent of jobs to be allocated on merit. The remaining 2 percent will be reserved for members of ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

“In the future, the government may change the ratio if needed,” Uddin told Arab News.

“Now, I will send a copy of the verdict to the law minister for the next steps. (I) hope a gazette will be published in this regard within the next couple of days.”

The verdict came after demonstrations spiraled into deadly clashes, prompting authorities to impose a curfew ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, which Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Agence France-Presse news agency will continue “until the situation improves.”

The military was on patrol in the streets of Dhaka, along with riot police and thousands of Border Guard personnel as all gatherings were banned amid an increasing number of casualties.

At least 148 people have been killed in the past week and thousands injured, according to a count based on reports in the local media.

Inamul Haq Sagar, spokesman for the police, told Arab News: “We are on the highest alert across the country to maintain law and order.”

He added that at least three policemen had been killed and about 1,000 police officers injured during clashes in the past few days.

He said: “Since the curfew is underway, I urge all to be respectful to the law of the country and refrain from any destructive activities.”

It was not immediately clear how protesters would react to the decision by the Supreme Court.

Students had taken to the streets as the government quotas, which reserve hundreds of thousands of well-paid government jobs, affect young people directly.

The country’s unemployment rate is highest among people aged between 15 and 29 — more than a quarter of Bangladesh’s population — which constitutes 83 percent of the total without jobs.


Ruto says Kenya demos must stop, opposition urges ‘justice’

Ruto says Kenya demos must stop, opposition urges ‘justice’
Updated 21 July 2024
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Ruto says Kenya demos must stop, opposition urges ‘justice’

Ruto says Kenya demos must stop, opposition urges ‘justice’
  • Initially peaceful rallies that started last month against planned tax rises descended into violence
  • Ruto shelved his tax reform and proposed a national dialogue

NAIROBI: Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga Sunday insisted “justice” was a prerequisite for any talks with the government after deadly clashes, as President William Ruto warned unrest could “destroy” the country.
Initially peaceful rallies that started last month against planned tax rises descended into violence with dozens killed after some marchers stormed parliament.
Ruto shelved his tax reform and proposed a national dialogue.
“Justice must come first before any talks,” said Odinga on Sunday, however.
He demanded “compensation for every victim of police brutality” during the rallies.
Despite Ruto’s concessions, rallies have continued across the country. The opposition has called for fresh demonstrations next week.
“I want to promise it is going to stop. Enough is enough,” Ruto said on Sunday.
A court on Thursday suspended a police move to ban protests in the center of the capital Nairobi.
Ruto vowed to stop “looters” and “killers” who he said “risk destroying our country.”
“We want a peaceful, stable nation. And our issues are resolved using democratic means.”
Odinga, 79, who lost out to Ruto in the 2022 presidential election, said there had to be a “national conversation” between different sectors of society.
Such discussions, he said in a post on X, “should come from various sectors including youth, government, religious leaders, health care professionals, lawyers and teachers.”
Ruto on Friday unveiled a new partial cabinet to lead a “broad-based” government in a bid to ease the worst crisis of his nearly two years in office.
But the main opposition coalition swiftly branded the cabinet moves “cosmetic” and insisted it would not join a government of national unity led by Ruto.


Pope Francis calls for Olympic truce for countries at war, prays for peace

Pope Francis calls for Olympic truce for countries at war, prays for peace
Updated 21 July 2024
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Pope Francis calls for Olympic truce for countries at war, prays for peace

Pope Francis calls for Olympic truce for countries at war, prays for peace
  • The Pope stressed that sport has “a great social power, capable of peacefully uniting people from different cultures.”

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday voiced his hope that the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games will provide an opportunity for countries at war to respect an ancient Greek tradition and establish a truce for the duration of the Games.
“According to ancient tradition, may the Olympics be an opportunity to establish a truce in wars, demonstrating a sincere will for peace,” Francis said during his Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square.
The Pope stressed that sport also has “a great social power, capable of peacefully uniting people from different cultures.”
The opening ceremony of the 33rd Olympic Games will be held in Paris on July 26 with the participation of 205 delegations of athletes, who will parade on more than 80 boats on the Seine.
“I hope that this event can be a sign of the inclusive world we want to build and that the athletes, with their sporting testimony, may be messengers of peace and valuable models for the young,” Francis added.
The pope, as always, asked the faithful to pray for peace, recalling the ongoing conflicts around the world.
“Let us not forget the martyred Ukraine, Palestine, Israel, Myanmar, and many other countries at war. Let us not forget, war is a defeat,” he concluded.