San Francisco activists denounce WikiLeaks crackdown

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A small group of protesters gathered outside the British Consulate in San Francisco’s financial district Dec. 16 to speak out against the recent crackdown on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is out on bail after being imprisoned for nine days by British authorities.

Assange, whose organization recently created an international stir with the release of secret diplomatic cables, could be extradited to Sweden to be tried on sex crimes charges following a hearing in January.

According to a recent New York Times article, U.S. government officials are trying to build a case against Assange for conspiracy. In the wake of the leak, Sen. Joe Lieberman was calling for the New York Times to be investigated for espionage for publishing information provided by WikiLeaks, and last week, a Fox news pundit even said he thought Assange should be assasinated.

Among the small crowd that gathered before twilight were representatives from Veterans for Peace, Courage to Resist, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Rainey Reitman, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- a legal firm and nonprofit that defended WikiLeaks against a 2008 lawsuit from Swiss bank Julius Baer -- called the recent backlash a threat to Internet freedom and freedom of speech.

“Let me be clear. Here in the United States of America, WikiLeaks has a fundamental right to publish truthful political information. And equally important, Internet users have a fundamental right to read that information and voice their opinions about it. We live in a society that values freedom of expression and shuns censorship. Unfortunately, those values are only as strong as the will to support them -- a will that seems to be dwindling now in an alarming way,” Reitman said.

Reitman said the case touched on broader issues. “This isn’t just about WikiLeaks. It never was. It’s about the future of the Internet and the future of free speech.”

Among several other speakers, Reitman was joined by Jeff Patterson of Courage to Resist, which has mounted a support campaign for U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning. Manning has been accused of acting as WikiLeaks’ source for 250,000 secret government documents and classified military footage, which has now been made available to the general public.

Patterson noted that the Bradley Manning Support Network had raised $100,000 for Manning’s legal defense. Although many activists have sent letters of support to Manning, who is being held in solitary confinement in a prison outside of Washington, D.C., “the military is rejecting letters pretty much arbitrarily,” Patterson claimed.

To read more about the WikiLeaks saga, check out the blog of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.