A federal grand jury has announced 17 additional charges under the Espionage Act against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who is currently in a UK jail awaiting an extradition hearing.

Assange spent almost seven years in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he sought refuge in 2012 believing – correctly, as it turned out – that allegations of sexual assault made against him in Sweden would be a pretext to have him arrested and extradited to the US.  After the new Ecuadorian government reportedly struck a deal with the US, however, his asylum was revoked and British police seized him from the embassy in April. This is all part of a bigger wave to curb dissent in the world by state institutions. This crackdown on what states are viewing as “dissidents” is a pretty alarming trend that all of us should be worried about.

What is WikiLeaks?

Incase many of you had forgotten, WikiLeaks, which he founded in 2006, is an international publisher known for revealing war crimes, human rights abuses, and corruption. WikiLeaks came to international attention in 2010 when it published a series of leaks provided by Chelsea Manning. These leaks included the Collateral Murder video (April 2010), the Afghanistan war logs (July 2010), the Iraq war logs (October 2010), and CableGate (November 2010). After the 2010 leaks, the United States government launched a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks and asked allied nations for assistance. 

Why is WikiLeaks/Whistleblowers so important?

The importance of WikiLeaks and Whistleblowers in general to society is tremendously underrated. Most state institutions work in secrecy, behind closed doors. To be fair, that is how they are all supposed to operate. However, this secrecy has prevented the public from fully understanding the actions of the state. War crimes are usually the most hidden secrets within the state institutions because they reflect poorly on the state, making people lose hope in them. Whistleblowers and WikiLeaks has shown us the side our state has tried to hide from its people.

In WikiLeaks case, we were able to see the War Crimes committed during the US’s war on terror. These include killing civilians and terming it collateral damage, torturing terrorist suspects in the most inhumane ways and using other state institutions for their own personal gain. These logs and cables leaks has given us a hint of what our state institutions are doing behind this veil of secrecy. But these states have had enough of this perceived dissent.

Is there really a crackdown happening all over the world?

 Sadly, there is always going to be a crackdown against state dissent. However, with this right wing way that is swiping the world, these crackdowns are becoming more prominent, with much more dire circumstances. And it isn’t just targeting what you would traditionally call “whistleblowers”.

The biggest example of this taken to the extreme is the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. A massive critique of the Saudi Arabia, a 15 man team was allegedly sent to Turkey to kill and dismember the journalist for speaking out against the state. While we allegedly know who this is about, no one has been punished for it.

This combo shows a file photo (L) taken on May 4, 2001 of a man believed to be Kim Jong-Nam, son of the late-North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, getting off a bus to board an All Nippon Airways plane at Narita airport near Tokyo and a file photo (R) of his half-brother, current North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, on a balcony of the Grand People’s Study House following a mass parade in Pyongyang on May 10, 2016. The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who has been murdered in Malaysia, pleaded for his life after a failed assassination bid in 2012, lawmakers briefed by South Korea’s spy chief said on February 15, 2017. Jong-Nam, the eldest son of the late former leader Kim Jong-Il, was once seen as heir apparent but fell out of favour following an embarrassing botched bid in 2001 to enter Japan on a forged passport and visit Disneyland. / AFP / Toshifumi KITAMURA AND Ed JONES (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA,ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korea was linked to the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother and strong critique of the hermit state. This assassination was allegedly carried out when two women poured a liquid on a blanket and poured it on his face. Both women were released after it was discovered that they were told it was part of a prank show. No one else was arrested.

The journalist who leaked the Panama Papers was killed. The journalist who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta was killed in a car bomb near her home. On 4 December 2017, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that ten individuals had been arrested in connection to the investigation, three of whom were later charged with executing the assassination. None of the three suspects have been brought to trial.

Do Pakistanis really need to be worried?

If you hadn’t noticed I talked about international news within most of this piece. However, Pakistan has its fair share of whistleblowers facing the music.

At least 26 journalists were killed in Pakistan during the last five years for their journalism work but only the cases of 16 journalists went to court for trial and of which the prosecution and trial was concluded in six cases and conviction handed down in one case only. Let’s not forget the 5 bloggers than went missing within our boundaries.

Unfortunately it isn’t restricted to just journalists here. Afzal Kohistani was shot in Abbottabad 7. He had pursued the case in which a local Muslim leader had allegedly ordered the killings of male and female wedding guests shown enjoying themselves in a video. His whistleblowing showed Pakistan the power Muslim leader had over their districts, and how they operate above the law.

Sabeen Mehmud was a human rights activist that was killed in 2015 was holding a take about Balochistan at her café. After the event, she was shot dead by a gunman on her way home after hosting a seminar at T2F. As of 20 May 2015, Pakistani authorities have arrested the culprit behind Mahmud’s murder. They were given the death penalty.

What now?

Resist, understand and be prepared. This new wave is coming all over the world. The best way to prepare for it is to not vote for politicians that bow down. Most of these incidents have some government involved within the situation. In democracies, you have the right to raise your voice. Just be careful.