"If it is full democracy, then why have they hidden Mr Assange in prison? That's what, democracy?" asked the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin. "As they say in the countryside, some people's cows can moo, but yours should keep quiet."
Mr Putin has frequently had to field difficult questions about the alarming frequency with which journalists are pressured and even killed in Russia, and took evident pleasure in the shoe being on the other foot. "I would like to shoot the puck back at our American colleagues," he added.
On Wednesday, a source in the administration of President Dmitry Medvedev made the mischievous suggestion to a Russian news agency that Mr Assange should be nominated for a Nobel prize. "Public and non-governmental organisations should think of how to help him," added the source.
Many of the leaked US diplomatic ommuniquEs paint Russia and its leaders in a bad light, describing it as a "mafia state" with endemic corruption, allegations which the Kremlin has brushed off as not based in fact.
The current tone of Moscow officials, who have portrayed Mr Assange as a crusader for the truth, is rather different from that a couple of months ago, when the WikiLeaks founder suggested he might have documents that compromised the Russian leadership.
WikiLeaks, Assange and the Spartacus effect
The issue: Julian Assange may have turned himself over to British authorities on Tuesday to answer Swedish sexual assault charges, but the debate about WikiLeaks rages on. U.S. politicians have called for him to be prosecuted under American espionage laws. MasterCard, PayPal and Visa have stopped transmitting donations to the organization. But “cyberanarchists” have rallied around WikiLeaks, launching online attacks on the organizations that they deem Assange’s enemies.
Dianne Feinstein, Democratic U.S. senator, Wall Street Journal: “The law Mr. Assange continues to violate is the Espionage Act of 1917. That law makes it a felony for an unauthorized person to possess or transmit ‘information relating to the national defence which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.’ . . . Mr. Assange claims to be a journalist and would no doubt rely on the First Amendment to defend his actions. But he is no journalist: He is an agitator intent on damaging our government, whose policies he happens to disagree with, regardless of who gets hurt.”
Adam Serwer, The American Prospect: “If WikiLeaks is prosecuted under the Espionage Act as it currently exists, then no journalistic institution or entity is safe. The idea that any time that a journalist obtains a document that has ‘information related to the national defence’ that could be used ‘to the injury of the United States’ they could be subject to prosecution would destroy national security journalism as it currently exists.”
Glenn Greenwald, Salon: “How can it possibly be that WikiLeaks should be prosecuted for espionage, but not The New York Times or The Guardian or any other newspaper that publishes these cables?”
Jack Shafer, Slate: “Assange’s jailing changes the ‘conversation’ from how-dare-he to how-dare-they almost as efficiently as if a deranged vigilante had put a bullet in his brain. Our culture loves to protect and defend ‘victims,’ which is what the legal proceedings are turning him into. Overnight, he’s becoming an albino Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., writing his letter from jail. . . . The decisions by Visa, MasterCard and PayPal to shutter WikiLeaks accounts for reasons similar to those of Amazon will also backfire in Assange’s favour. People who didn’t much care about WikiLeaks last week might became outraged and politicized by the financial overlords’ capricious behaviour . . . The more WikiLeaks leaks while Assange is in jail, the more he’ll become like Spartacus, making him an inspirational figure, not just a controversial one. The mirroring of the WikiLeaks information to hundreds of servers around the globe is one manifestation of the Spartacus effect.”
Anonymous WikiLeaks supporter writing online of the cyber-attacks: “The war is on. And everyone ought to spend some time thinking about it, discussing it with others, preparing yourselves so you know how to act if something compels you to make a decision. Be very careful not to err on the side of inaction.”
E.D. Kain, Ordinary-Gentlemen. com: “If the publisher of a small website dedicated to the dissemination of the state secrets of the Chinese government were operating their publishing outfit out of the United States and published a bunch of leaked Chinese state secrets (both on their website and through various larger media organizations) and the Chinese government declared that a violation of Chinese law, should the U.S. government arrest and detain and possibly extradite that person to China?”
Josh Marshall, TalkingPointsMemo. com: “But there’s one thing that oddly hasn’t gotten that much attention, even though it’s out there in plain site [sic]. That’s the role of Bradley Manning, the Army private who is reportedly (though we have no proof of this) responsible for the Afghanistan, Iraq and State Department leaks. Manning’s role is no secret. Everyone knows about him, even though we don’t have confirmation that he’s the guy. But assuming he is the guy, his role is so central that this is really more the Bradley Manning story than the WikiLeaks story. Maybe Assange will bust out next week with a huge cache of BoA (Bank of America) files, or maybe the same for the Russian government. But at the moment at least it’s not clear that WikiLeaks would have gotten anywhere at all without this one kid giving them all these documents.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones: “After all, even a ‘war against terror’ might be unwinnable but still manage to minimize terrorist attacks. But as near as I can tell, we could literally kill every person associated with WikiLeaks, impound every cent of their money, and take down all their servers, and it would have virtually no impact. All the existing documents would still be available, and other groups would pop up almost instantly to take WikiLeaks’ place.”
Ron Paul, Republican congressman, on Twitter: “Re: WikiLeaks — In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.”