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Updated: May 12, 2011 23:46 IST

Prosecution of WikiLeaks will stifle free speech, says Amnesty

Hasan Suroor
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File photo of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
AP File photo of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“More information is always better than no information”

Amnesty International on Thursday condemned attempts by American authorities to prosecute WikilLeaks founder Julian Assange describing it as a bid to “stifle” free speech in the name of national security.

“National security should not be used to stifle freedom of speech except in very restricted circumstances where there is clear evidence that there is a genuine threat to national security. We are committed to protecting free flow of information and believe that more information is always better than no information,” Amnesty's Asia Pacific director Sam Zarifi told The Hindu on the launch of its annual human rights world report. The report also criticises the Indian government over its treatment of “marginalised communities,” especially the Adivasis.

His remarks came as it was reported that the American government had opened a grand jury hearing into the leak of secret official documents as a prelude to deciding whether to prosecute Mr. Assange for alleged espionage.

Mr. Zarifi also denounced the ill-treatment of Bradley Manning, the young American soldier held in solitary confinement after being arrested for allegedly leaking thousands of restricted documents.

“The harsh and punitive conditions in which he has been held are very problematic under international law,'' he said.

On the circumstances surrounding the capture and killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by American forces, Mr. Zarifi said Amnesty had asked both America and Pakistan to provide more information as to what exactly happened.

Questions on Osama

“We've some serious questions. We would have preferred to see Osama put on trial so the world would know what he did,'' he said commending Indian action in putting Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving terrorist involved in the Mumbai attacks, on trial.

On several other fronts, however, India's record on human rights left much to be desired, he said pointing to Amnesty's report that the government failed to protect the rights of marginalized communities facing threat from big corporate interests.

“Protests by Adivasis and other marginalized communities against moves to acquire their lands and natural resources without proper consultation or consent resulted in the suspension of key corporate-led projects. Human rights defenders in these cases were attacked by state or private agents with politically-motivated charges, including sedition, being brought against some,” the report says.

Generally, it claims, institutional mechanisms meant to protect human rights and human rights defenders remained “weak and judicial processes failed to ensure justice for many victims of past violations and abuses.” Also, despite its growing global clout India “did not speak out against gross human rights violations” in neighbouring countries putting its “economic and strategic interests above human rights considerations.”

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