Assange criticises 'squeamish' UK at Hay Festival

WikiLeaks founder also claims responsibility for 'significant' role in Arab spring revolutions

Joy Lo Dico
Sunday 05 June 2011 00:00 BST

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, yesterday accused Britain of cowardice in its dealings with nations in revolution. "There's a certain mid-brow squeamishness in the population. It would rather destroy an entire revolution, it would rather keep a country in dictatorship, than risk being blamed for the tiniest thing," he told an audience at the Hay Festival, in Hay-on-Wye.

While not naming Libya specifically, he was talking in the context of revolutions that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East.

Mr Assange claimed some credit for "shaping the path of some of those [revolutions]" after his organisation's release of US diplomatic cables, in particular those that revealed America's misgivings about the Tunisian government. "Amnesty International, in its 50th anniversary report a few weeks ago, dedicated approximately the first five pages to what happened with us and the Arab Spring. It looked like we played a significant role in it," he said.

The WikiLeaks founder, who is still subject to bail conditions while appealing extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sex offences, was helicoptered to the festival site on the English-Welsh border for the talk.

Mr Assange also said that 30 people had died in the Egyptian revolution, before being corrected by his interviewer, the human rights lawyer Philippe Sands. "I am not up to date with the death count," replied Mr Assange. "But, let's say it's 300. One way of looking at this is you've got a population of around 80 million. How much risk are the Egyptian people willing to go through in order to restructure their society?

"When you are dealing with material that might transform a dictatorship into a democracy, you cannot take the principle of 'do no harm' and look at it through a microscope. What you have to consider is the total situation."

It was then that Mr Assange questioned the UK's commitment to supporting revolutions. "We will not condemn a nation to a dictatorship simply because we are scared of a... middle-class squeamishness in the UK. It would be reprehensible to not act with vigour under the circumstance where you might change things."

Mr Assange said WikiLeaks had no evidence that any of its revelations had caused "physical harm" to any person. He was criticised last year for failing to redact the names of US informants in the Afghanistan war logs, which human rights organisations, including Amnesty, warned him would lead to "deadly ramifications".

He was heckled at one point when answering a question about Private Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking confidential information to the site. It was put to Mr Assange that Manning could spend the rest of his life in prison. He said that the soldier had his support, but that "other" people were also being held in custody without being publicly named.

Asked about superinjunctions, Mr Assange boasted that his website had printed the full text of six over the years, though he would not answer whether he would have published the details of Ryan Giggs's case. He did not rule out seeking a superinjunction himself to protect his own sources.

Mr Assange appeared on stage with Mr Sands and Christopher Hope, Whitehall editor of The Daily Telegraph, WikiLeaks' new media partner. His voice was strained at the mention of his former partners The Guardian and The New YorkTimes. He claimed they conspired against him and took whistle-blower stories from his former colleague Dominic Domscheit-Berg. He called both papers a "pack of back-stabbing bastards".

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