Thursday, December 1, 2011

Julian Assange

Julian Paul Assange (born 3 July 1971) is an Australian publisher, journalist, writer, computer programmer and Internet activist. He is the editor in chief of WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website and conduit for worldwide news leaks with the stated purpose of creating open governments.

WikiLeaks has published material about extrajudicial killings in Kenya, toxic waste dumping in Côte d'Ivoire, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay procedures, and banks such as Kaupthing and Julius Baer. In 2010, WikiLeaks published Iraq War documents and Afghan War documents about American involvement in the wars, some of which was classified material. On 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks and its five international print media partners (Der Spiegel, The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian and El País) began publishing U.S. diplomatic cables.

Assange was a computer hacker in his youth, before becoming a skilled programmer and internationally renowned activist. He has lived in several countries and has made public appearances in many parts of the world to speak about freedom of the press, censorship, and investigative journalism. He has received numerous awards and nominations, including the 2009 Amnesty International Media Award, Readers' Choice for TIME magazine's 2010 Person of the Year, the 2011 Sydney Peace Foundation gold medal and the 2011 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. He was also nominated for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2010 a European Arrest Warrant was issued for Assange in response to a Swedish police request for questioning in relation to a sexual assault investigation. Assange voluntarily attended a police station in England on 7 December 2010, and was arrested and taken into custody. After ten days in Wandsworth prison, Assange was freed on bail with a residence requirement at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, England, fitted with an electronic tag and ordered to report to police daily. Assange appealed a February 2011 decision by English courts to extradite him to Sweden, claiming the allegations of wrongdoing were "without basis". On 2 November 2011 the High court upheld the extradition decision and rejected all four grounds for the appeal as presented by Assange's legal representatives. £19,000 court costs was also awarded against Assange. A decision as to whether Assange will be allowed to further appeal to the Supreme Court will be taken on 5 December when the high court judges will consider Assange's claim that his case raises a question of public importance and consider his request that they allow him to appeal to the Supreme Court. If such an appeal is not allowed Assange will be then taken into custody and extradited to Sweden within ten days of that decision. Assange remains on conditional bail.

Early life
Assange was born in Townsville, Queensland, and spent much of his youth living on Magnetic Island.

Assange's mother Christine Ann Hawkins was the daughter of academic and principal of Northern Rivers College, Dr. Warren Alfred Hawkins. Assange's maternal ancestors came to Australia in the mid-nineteenth century from Scotland and Ireland.

Assange says he did not meet his biological father, John Shipton, until the age of 25. When he was one year old, his mother Christine married theatre director Brett Assange, "who raised him from the age of one and gave him his surname". It is unclear if Julian Assange was born with the name Assange or Shipton, or if the name was changed. Brett and Christine Assange ran a touring theatre company. Assange has reportedly claimed that his grandfather was a Taiwanese pirate who settled on Thursday Island "where he met and married a Thursday Islander woman". In his autobiography, as well as in an article from The Independent, he says that Brett Assange "was the descendant of a Chinese immigrant who had settled on Thursday Island, Ah Sang or Mr Sang", "or ah-sang in Cantonese"., "his great-great-great-grandfather was a Taiwanese pirate". Brett, Julian's first "real dad", described Julian as "a very sharp kid" with "a keen sense of right and wrong ... He always stood up for the underdog ... he was always very angry about people ganging up on other people." Assange revealed that he created "an amalgam of Brett Assange and John Shipton" when speaking about his father to worldwide audiences, and that this father had "taught him the most fundamental lesson in life: to nurture victims rather than to create them".

In 1979, his mother remarried; her new husband was a musician whom Assange believed belonged to a New Age group called the Santiniketan Park Association led by Yoga teacher Anne Hamilton-Byrne. The couple had a son, but broke up in 1982 and engaged in a custody struggle for Assange's half-brother. His divorced mother fled her boyfriend across Australia, taking both children into hiding for the next five years. Assange moved 30 times before he turned 14, attending many schools, including Goolmangar Primary School from 1979 to 1983, sometimes being home-schooled. In an interview conducted by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Assange stated that he had lived in 50 different towns and attended 37 different schools.

Hacking and conviction
In 1987, after turning 16, Assange began hacking under the name "Mendax" (derived from a phrase of Horace: "splendide mendax", or "nobly untruthful"). He and two other hackers joined to form a group they named the International Subversives. Assange wrote down the early rules of the subculture: "Don't damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don't change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information". The Personal Democracy Forum said he was "Australia's most famous ethical computer hacker." The Australian Federal Police became aware of this group and set up "Operation Weather" to investigate their hacking. In September 1991 Mendax was discovered in the act of hacking into the Melbourne master terminal of Nortel, the Canadian telecommunications company. In response the Australian Federal Police tapped Assanges' phoneline and subsequently raided his Melbourne home in 1991. He was also reported to have accessed computers belonging to an Australian university, the USAF 7th Command Group in the Pentagon and other organisations, via modem. It took three years to bring the case to court, where he was charged with 31 counts of hacking and related crimes. Nortel said his incursions cost them more than $100,000. Assange's lawyers represented his hacking as a victimless crime. He pleaded guilty to 25 charges of hacking, after six charges were dropped, and was released on bond for good conduct with a fine of A$2,100. The judge said "there is just no evidence that there was anything other than sort of intelligent inquisitiveness and the pleasure of being able to—what's the expression—surf through these various computers" and stated that Assange would have gone to jail for up to 10 years if he had not had such a disrupted childhood.

In 2011, court records revealed that in 1993, Assange helped the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit by providing technical advice and assisted in prosecuting persons.

Child custody issues
In 1989, Assange started living with his girlfriend and they had a son, Daniel Assange. They split up during the period of Assange's arrest and conviction. They subsequently engaged in a lengthy custody struggle and did not agree on a custody arrangement until 1999.

The entire process prompted Assange and his mother to form Parent Inquiry Into Child Protection, an activist group centered on creating a "central databank" for otherwise inaccessible legal records related to child custody issues in Australia. In an interview with ABC Radio, his mother explained their "most important" issue was demanding "that there be direct access to the children's court by any member of the public for an application for protection for any child that they believe is at serious risk from abuse, where the child protection agency has rejected that notification."

Though an Australian citizen, Assange has not lived in Australia since leaving after beginning work on WikiLeaks. He did have a permanent address for several years, and lived for periods in Australia, Kenya, Tanzania and Germany, and began renting a house in Iceland on 30 March 2010, from which he and other activists, including Birgitta Jónsdóttir, worked on the 'Collateral Murder' video.

For much of 2010, he was traveling around Europe, including the United Kingdom, Iceland, Sweden, and Austria. On 4 November 2010, Assange told Swiss public television TSR that he was seriously considering seeking political asylum in neutral Switzerland and moving the operation of the WikiLeaks foundation there. In December 2010, it was reported that U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Donald S. Beyer had warned the Swiss government against offering asylum to Assange citing the arrest warrant issued by Interpol.

In late November 2010, Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas of Ecuador spoke about giving Assange residency with "no conditions... so he can freely present the information he possesses and all the documentation, not just over the Internet but in a variety of public forums". Lucas believed that Ecuador may benefit from initiating a dialogue with Assange. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño stated on 30 November that the residency application would "have to be studied from the legal and diplomatic perspective". A few hours later, President Rafael Correa stated that WikiLeaks "committed an error by breaking the laws of the United States and leaking this type of information... no official offer was [ever] made." Correa noted that Lucas was speaking "on his own behalf"; additionally, he will launch an investigation into possible ramifications Ecuador would suffer from the release of the cables.

In a hearing at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on 7 December 2010, Assange identified a post office box as his address. When told by the judge that this information was not acceptable, he submitted "Parkville, Victoria, Australia" on a sheet of paper. His lack of permanent address and nomadic lifestyle were cited by the judge as factors in denying bail. He was ultimately released, in part because journalist Vaughan Smith offered to provide Assange with an address for bail during the extradition proceedings, Smith's Norfolk mansion, Ellingham Hall.

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