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WikiLeaks - Don't shoot the messenger, say IFEX members


Since online whistleblower WikiLeaks started publishing classified U.S. embassy cables on 28 November, it has come under fire on several fronts, from hacking attacks to hosting companies pulling the plug. Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Index on Censorship and other IFEX members have condemned the attacks for "threatening the core principles of freedom of speech."

Online retail giant Amazon dropped the site from its servers on 2 December, after political pressure from Joe Lieberman, chair of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee. Amazon denied caving into Lieberman's request, posting on its blog that WikiLeaks was violating its terms of service by publishing "harmful" content.

WikiLeaks moved to French Internet company OVH, sparking French industry minister Eric Besson to write to Internet companies warning them that there will be "consequences" for any companies or organisations helping to keep WikiLeaks online in France. This week a French court refused to order OVH to stop hosting WikiLeaks. was also recently dropped by its registry, EveryDNS. EveryDNS claimed that hacking attacks ("distributed denial of service", or DDOS attacks) against WikiLeaks were disrupting its service provided to thousands of other customers. The site's new Swiss registry rejected international calls to force the site off the net, saying there was "no reason" why it should be forced offline.

The reassurances come just hours after eBay-owned PayPal, the primary donation channel to WikiLeaks, terminated its links with the site, citing "illegal activity". Visa and MasterCard have also followed suit, as has Swiss Postfinance, which shut down a bank account of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks's founder.

Meanwhile, DDOS attacks by unknown hackers still bring the site down.

"This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency," said RSF. "It is up to the courts, not politicians, to decide whether or not a website should be closed."

IFEX members say it's not surprising that the usual suspects - China, Tunisia and U.A.E., for instance - have blocked access to WikiLeaks or sites that have been reprinting the cables. What is new is that countries that purport to stand for free expression have also been clamouring to shut down WikiLeaks.

For example, Index on Censorship points out that not even a year ago, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a landmark speech about Internet freedom, which was widely interpreted as a rebuke to China for its alleged cyberattack on Google.

Students at Columbia University in New York have been advised not to download or comment on the cables if they might want a government job. According to WikiLeaks journalist James Ball, writing on Index's website, the 19 million U.S. federal government employees have been told not to read the cables material - or any publication containing them. Agencies have added virtually every mainstream news outlet to web filters and blocks, "a move reminiscent of China's Great Firewall."

Said Index's Jo Glanville, "When one of the world's leading liberal educational institutions advises self-censorship to its students, rather than encouraging them to explore and read one of the most significant publications of our time, it is clear that we are in the grip of such a damaging panic that it is threatening the core principles of freedom of speech."

IFEX members ARTICLE 19, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have also spoken out against the backlash.

Lieberman and other senators are trying to introduce emergency legislation to make it illegal to publish the names of U.S. military and intelligence agency informants - which would ultimately allow the administration to go after WikiLeaks. Whether this tactic gains momentum remains to be seen.

According to "The Washington Post", Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has been urging WikiLeaks to "redact from the documents the names of any U.S.-supported human rights defenders who might be placed in jeopardy," such as activists who have spoken with U.S. diplomats in countries with repressive governments. At the same time, however, he voiced concern that the U.S. State Department was trying to use the fear of disclosure about human rights defenders "as an excuse to pursue WikiLeaks or restrict access to this kind of information."

"It is perhaps the fallout from Wikileaks's mass publication of diplomatic cables, rather than the content of the cables themselves, that may do the most harm in the end," Glanville lamented.

RSF is also concerned for Assange, who is currently facing sex assault allegations. In a letter to U.K. Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke, RSF says the proceedings should concern solely the private accusations made against Assange in Sweden, "and must not turn into a proxy trial for the publication of leaked documents by WiliLeaks."

In the meantime, WikiLeaks says it is here to stay. On 7 December, the day Assange was arrested, WikiLeaks tweeted, "Today's actions against our editor-in-chief Julian Assange won't affect our operations: we will release more cables tonight as normal." Copies of WikiLeaks are now loaded on more than 300 different servers worldwide. You can still donate at:

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