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?

  • 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.


King Salman Global Academy trains Indian scholars in Arabic teaching

Updated 16 July 2024
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King Salman Global Academy trains Indian scholars in Arabic teaching

  • Fifty lecturers take part in four-day course at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi
  • Training is part of Saudi-led language month to promote learning Arabic

NEW DELHI: A top Saudi linguistic institution, the King Salman Global Academy for Arabic Language, launched special training sessions for instructors teaching Arabic at Indian universities.

Some 50 lecturers are taking part in the four-day course held in New Delhi at Jawaharlal Nehru University, which is the main host of the KSGAAL’s ongoing Arabic Language Month.

The event is aimed at developing and improving the teaching of Arabic for non-native speakers in the world’s most populous nation, and kicked off online in late June, running until July 26.

It includes both online and offline competitions and sessions for students and lecturers.

“The teaching of the Arabic language has transformed significantly. There are a number of institutions which teach pedagogy of Arabic according to the latest trends,” Prof. Mujeebur Rahman, head of the Centre of Arabic and African Studies at JNU, told Arab News.

“There is lots of research in the Arab world, published materials also, which Arabic teachers in the (Indian) universities are not aware of and not equipped with ... So, the purpose of this training is to apprise the teachers of the latest pedagogy of Arabic teaching as a foreign language ... and also tell them about the technological tools that are available.”

Nine Saudi experts in different domains of language teaching were conducting the course under the supervision of Dr. Abdullah bin Saleh Al-Washmi, the academy’s secretary-general.

All aspects of teaching Arabic to non-native speakers are covered in the training to help teachers step up their skills.

“This would be beneficial to them when they go to classrooms and teach students. How to communicate and how to improve their own performance in the classroom, how to derive better outcomes from their teaching,” Rahman said.

Dr. Mohammad Eisha, Arabic translator and lector, said the training was helpful for keeping up with the newest teaching practices.

“There is a method to learn a foreign language and there is some technique ... training like this helps us,” he told Arab News.

“This is a good initiative by the King Salman Academy and it will boost career opportunities, and it will also stimulate learners to learn in a better way.”

Mohammad Ajmal, assistant professor at the Centre of Arabic and African Studies at the JNU, is also taking the training and said the course would help readers refine their skills.

“We are non-native speakers of the language. We will learn how to use technology in imparting language learning skills, and what can be the easy way of learning the language,” he said.

“I feel that the training will help me to be a better educator of the Arabic language.”


Beijing, Manila establish hotline to prevent clashes in disputed South China Sea

Updated 16 July 2024
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Beijing, Manila establish hotline to prevent clashes in disputed South China Sea

  • The territorial disputes have persisted since last year, sparking fears of a larger armed conflict that could involve the US
  • There was also a plan to set up a new communication channel between the Chinese and Philippine coast guards

MANILA: A recently signed agreement will open a direct line of communication between the presidential offices of China and the Philippines to help prevent any new confrontation from spiraling out of control in the disputed South China Sea, according to highlights of the accord seen by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
China and the Philippines have created such emergency telephone hotlines at lower levels in the past to better manage disputes, particularly in two fiercely disputed shoals where the Philippines has accused Chinese forces of increasingly hostile actions and China says Philippine ships have encroached despite repeated warnings.
The territorial disputes, however, have persisted since last year, sparking fears of a larger armed conflict that could involve the United States, which has repeatedly warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, a key Asian treaty ally, if Filipino forces come under attack in the disputed waters.
US Gen. Charles Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Philippine military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner in Manila on Tuesday and discussed ways to further boost defense ties, enhance the militaries’ ability to operate jointly and ensure regional ability, the Philippine military said.
During a confrontation between Chinese and Philippine forces at the Philippines-occupied Second Thomas Shoal in August 2023, the Philippine government said it was unable to reach Chinese officials through an established “maritime communication mechanism” for several hours. That emergency telephone hotline was arranged after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in January 2023.
Chinese and Philippine officials dealing with the territorial disputes held talks in Manila on July 2, following a violent confrontation at the Second Thomas Shoal in which Chinese coast guard personnel reportedly wielded knives, an axe and improvised spears and Philippine navy personnel were injured. The Chinese forces also seized seven Philippine navy rifles, said Brawner, who demanded China return the firearms and pay for damages.
Both sides “recognized the need to strengthen the bilateral maritime communication mechanism on the South China Sea” and signed an arrangement “on improving Philippines-China maritime communication mechanisms,” the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said in a statement after the talks in Manila, but did not provide a copy or details of the agreement.
A copy of the agreement’s highlights, seen by the AP, said it “provides several channels for communication between the Philippines and China, specifically on maritime issues, through the representatives to be designated by their leaders.”
The hotline talks could also be done “through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs counterparts, including at the foreign minister and vice foreign minister levels or through their designated representatives,” it said, and added without elaborating that Philippine officials were “in discussions with the Chinese side on the guidelines that will govern the implementation of this arrangement.”
There was also a plan to set up a new communication channel between the Chinese and Philippine coast guards “once the corresponding memorandum of understanding” between them is concluded, according to the agreement.
During the talks in Manila, China and the Philippines agreed on two other confidence-boosting steps to intensify “cooperation between their respective coast guard authorities” and the possible convening of a maritime forum between Chinese and Philippine scientists and academic leaders.
“Both sides recognized that there is a need to restore trust, rebuild confidence and create conditions conducive to productive dialogue and interaction,” the Philippine department of foreign affairs statement said. It added that China and the Philippines “affirmed their commitment to de-escalate tensions without prejudice to their respective positions.”
It said that “there was substantial progress on developing measures to manage the situation at sea,” but acknowledged that “significant differences remain.”


A North Korean diplomat in Cuba defected to South Korea in November, a possible blow to leader Kim

Updated 16 July 2024
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A North Korean diplomat in Cuba defected to South Korea in November, a possible blow to leader Kim

  • National Intelligence Service said media reports on the defection of a North Korean counselor of political affairs in Cuba were true
  • Ri defected before South Korea and Cuba established diplomatic ties in February

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday that a senior North Korea diplomat based in Cuba has fled to South Korea, the latest defection by members of the North’s ruling elite that likely hurt leader Kim Jong Un’s push to bolster his leadership.
The National Intelligence Service said media reports on the defection of a North Korean counselor of political affairs in Cuba were true. A brief statement by the NIS public affairs office gave no further details.
South Korea’s mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported earlier Tuesday that diplomat Ri Il Kyu fled to South Korea with his wife and children in November.
Chosun Ilbo cited Ri as telling the newspaper in an interview that he had decided to defect because of what he called disillusionment with North Korea’s political system, an unfair job evaluation by Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry, and the ministry’s disapproval of his hopes to visit Mexico to treat his neural damage. He said that hospitals in Cuba didn’t have the necessary medical equipment to treat his health problem due to international sanctions.
Other South Korean media outlets carried similar reports later Tuesday.
North Korea didn’t immediately respond to South Korea’s announcement of Ri’s defection. North Korea has previously expressed fury over some high-profile defections by accusing South Korea of kidnapping or enticing its citizens to defect. It has also described some defectors as traitors or criminals who fled to avoid punishment.
Ri defected before South Korea and Cuba established diplomatic ties in February, an event that experts say likely posed a political blow to North Korea, whose diplomatic footing is largely dependent on a small number of Cold War-era allies like Cuba.
The Chosun report said Ri had been engaged in efforts to block Cuba from opening diplomatic ties with South Korea until his defection. The report said Ri won a commendation from Kim Jong Un for his role in negotiations with Panama that led to the release of a ship detained in 2013 for allegedly carrying banned items like missiles and fighter jet parts. The report said Ri was then a third secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Cuba.
About 34,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea to avoid economic hardship and political suppression, mostly since the late 1990s. A majority of them are women from the North’s poorer northern regions. But the number of highly educated North Koreans with professional jobs escaping to South Korea has steadily increased recently.
In 2023, about 10 North Koreans categorized as members of the country’s elite group resettled in South Korea — more than in recent years, according South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Ministry officials have said that an increase in high-level defections were likely caused by North Korea’s pandemic-related economic difficulties and its pushes to reinforce state control of its people. Those who had to stay abroad longer than initially scheduled due to COVID-19 curbs were exposed to freer foreign cultures for an extended period.
“This high-level defection adds insult to injury for North Korea, as Ri was instrumental in representing Pyongyang’s interests in Havana,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“The Kim regime is no doubt taking measures to make it more difficult for diplomats overseas to defect, but increased repression is likely to further isolate Pyongyang and may actually encourage more defections,” Easley said.
Moon Seong Mook, an expert with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said news of high-level defections like Ri’s would spread to North Korean diplomats and others, potentially dealing a big blow to Kim — though it won’t likely lead to a regime collapse anytime soon.
Few North Korea monitoring groups question Kim’s grip on power. But observers say Kim is grappling with chronic economic difficulties, the influence of South Korean pop cultures and the expansion of the US-South Korean military cooperation.
The most high-profile defection in recent years happened in 2016, when Tae Yongho, then a minister at the North Korean Embassy in London, arrived in South Korea. He said that he decided to flee because he didn’t want his children to live “miserable” lives in North Korea as he also fell into “despair” over Kim’s execution of officials and his pursuit of nuclear weapons.
North Korea has called him “human scum” and accused him of embezzling government money and committing other crimes. Tae was elected to South Korea’s parliament in 2020.
In 2019, North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, Jo Song Gil, arrived in South Korea. Also in 2019, North Korea’s acting ambassador to Kuwait came to South Korea with his family.
In recent months, tensions on the Korean Peninsula have soared over North Korea’s launches of trash-carrying balloons toward South Korea and its continuation of missile tests. North Korea says its balloon campaigns were a tit-for-tat action against South Korean activists floating political leaflets via their own balloons.
On Tuesday, Kim’s sister and senior official, Kim Yo Jong, warned South Korea of unspecified “gruesome” consequences, saying that South Korean-sent leaflets were found again in the North. She issued a similar warning on Sunday. South Korea responded to North Korea’s earlier balloon activities by suspending a 2018 tension-reduction deal with North Korea.


Hundreds of Bangladeshi students injured as job quota protests ramp up

Updated 16 July 2024
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Hundreds of Bangladeshi students injured as job quota protests ramp up

  • 30% of all government jobs reserved for families of 1971 liberation war fighters
  • 234 students injured in Dhaka after clashes with government supporters

DHAKA: Hundreds of protesting Bangladeshi students have been injured in clashes with pro-ruling party groups, the country’s largest hospital said on Tuesday, in the wake of campus rallies against public sector job quotas.

The students have been demonstrating since early July against a quota system under which 30 percent of well-paid government jobs are reserved for the families of those who fought in the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan that resulted in Bangladesh’s independence.

The movement to reform the system started in 2018, forcing the government to issue a circular canceling the quota, but last month a high court order nullified it.

Students have been rallying since the announcement of the court’s ruling and on Monday and Tuesday morning clashed with members of the youth wing of the ruling Awami League party.

In the capital Dhaka alone, at least 234 were injured.

“A total of 234 students received treatment at our hospital following the students’ clashes on Monday,” Brig. Gen. Asaduzzaman, director of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told Arab News.

“At the moment, six of the injured students are admitted to our hospital. We have kept them under observation as some of them got head injuries ... among the injured, there are students from different educational institutions, including Dhaka University.”

The protests escalated on Sunday, after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undermined demonstrators by saying: “If the grandchildren of freedom fighters do not receive benefits, who would get it? The grandchildren of razakars?”

The word “razakar,” a deeply offensive term in Bangladesh, means someone who collaborates with an enemy occupying force and refers to those who collaborated with the Pakistani military during the 1971 war.

“The comparison with the collaborators agitated the protesting students very much. It’s not right that all the families who don’t belong to freedom fighters’ families are all collaborators,” Mohammad Nahid Islam, coordinator of the Students Against Discrimination group, which is part of the protests, told Arab News.

“Till last week, students from 35 public universities joined the protests with us across the country ... now, the protests spread over almost all educational institutions.”

Islam said that the students did not seek the abolishment of the quota system but its reform, so that it continues to protect marginalized groups but does not disproportionately distribute public service jobs prioritizing the descendants of the 1971 fighters.

“At the moment, the third generation of the freedom fighters are enjoying the quota benefits, which is 30 percent. We are demanding the reformation of the quota system, limiting it,” he said.

“We are demanding the reform by reserving some quota for the underprivileged population. We are demanding job recruitment on the basis of merit.”


Russia gives cautious reaction to Zelensky’s summit offer

Updated 16 July 2024
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Russia gives cautious reaction to Zelensky’s summit offer

  • Zelensky said on Monday that Russia “should be” represented at a second summit on the Ukraine conflict
  • Zelensky’s apparent welcoming of Russia to talks marks a change of tone from the conference in Switzerland

MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Tuesday gave a cautious reaction to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s apparent invitation to a future peace summit, saying that Russia first needs to understand what Kyiv means before attending talks.
Zelensky said on Monday that Russia “should be” represented at a second summit on the Ukraine conflict, following high-level talks last month in Switzerland that Moscow did not attend and heavily criticized.
“The first peace summit was not a peace summit at all. So perhaps it is necessary to first understand what he means,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Zvezda television channel, responding to Zelensky’s comments.
Zelensky’s apparent welcoming of Russia to talks marks a change of tone from the conference in Switzerland, ahead of which the Ukrainian leader categorically ruled out inviting Moscow.
The surprise comments from Kyiv come as Ukraine’s forces lose ground on the front line and as the United States gears up for presidential elections that could fundamentally change the dynamic of the conflict.
Leaders and top officials from more than 90 states gathered at a Swiss mountainside resort on June 15 for the two-day summit dedicated to resolving the largest European conflict since World War II.
China and Russia were markedly absent.
The Kremlin sharply criticized the gathering, saying that any discussions on ending the conflict that did not include Russia were “absurd.”
Washington said Monday that it backed Ukraine’s decision to invite Russia to a second summit, but expressed doubt about whether Moscow was ready for talks.
“When they want to invite Russia to that summit, of course, that is something we support,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told journalists.
“We’ve always supported diplomacy when Ukraine is ready, but it has never been clear that the Kremlin is ready for actual diplomacy,” he said.
Ahead of last month’s summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was open for talks and would announce a ceasefire if Kyiv effectively surrendered territory that Moscow claims as its own.
Zelensky slammed Putin’s demands as a territorial “ultimatum” reminiscent of those issued by Adolf Hitler, and Ukraine’s Western backers including the United States reacted with scorn.
However there is growing apprehension in Kyiv about how a potential Donald Trump victory in November’s US elections might affect continued American aid to Ukraine.
The Republican Party candidate has suggested he would end the conflict very quickly if he won back the presidency, a promise Kyiv fears would mean being forced to negotiate with Moscow from a weakened position.
Zelensky said on Monday he was “not worried” about the prospect of a Trump victory and that he was still counting on support from the United States, Ukraine’s biggest financial and military backer.