About 240 people attended a forum on “Wikileaks, Assange & defending democracy” on April 19.
Presented in partnership with the WikiLeaks Australian Citizens' Alliance (WACA), the forum argued that conversations about WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief Julian Assange are about much more than the organisation and the individual behind it. They encompass freedom of speech and the press, whistleblower protection, government transparency, the underlying tenets of our democracy and civil rights.
Lizzie O'Shea, a Melbourne lawyer specialising in public interest litigation, said Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson had been placed on a travel watch list and temporarily prevented from boarding a plane to Australia.
Crikey said on April 19: “Robinson was stopped when checking in at Heathrow early this morning Australian time and told she was an 'inhibited person' and that approval from the Australian High Commission would be needed before she was allowed to proceed.”
O'Shea said: “This incident highlights the need for greater transparency. We need to be uninhibited in facing off attacks on our civil liberties.”
Bernard Keane, Crikey's correspondent in Canberra, said: “Authorities have been expanding the definition of terrorism so widely as to include computer hacking that embarrasses the government.
"Governments and corporations want increasing secrecy over their activities while demanding ever greater personal information from us. The net makes it easier to make information free. WikiLeaks has been smeared and accused of hacking and putting people at risk although this has never been proven."
He compared this with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which has been exposed for hacking and other corruption. “But there is no international blockade placed on NewsCorp.
“WikiLeaks is different to other media – it tells us things that the elites don't want us to know. Millions of people have more processing power than they do. The only way to stop them is to expose them and shame them.”
Greg Barns, president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said: “Assange is facing politically driven charges. Gillard's claim that we can do nothing for Assange contrasts with Australians arrested in Bali with politicians scuttling off to Bali to appease the tabloids. Just as with the Bali 9, Australian authorities are prepared to sacrifice their own citizens for a broader political agenda.”
Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said: “We need to make this an issue for the government. Today we see that environment activists have become the victim of [the] War on Terror [and] ASIO.”
Suelette Dreyfus, coauthor with Assange of Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier said: “Australia spends around $1 billion on surveillance but only $600 million on the protection of at-risk children.
“We are living in an era of crackdown. They crack down on democratic ideals and behaviours such Occupy.
“Today we are better informed but more oppressed. People who reveal wrongdoing at great personal risk need to be protected by law to ensure the integrity of our society.
The turning point will be when good people step forward. The power is in your hands - use it.”