03.02.12 6:15 PM ET
Why Assange's Trashy Celebrity Harms Democracy
Julian Assange claims to be a champion of democracy. Yet a recent report in the New Statesman reveals that WikiLeaks associates handed over secret U.S. diplomatic documents to Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Democracy activists oppressed by the dictatorship don't realize that in inviting Assange to speak at the screening of a pro-democracy film, they are actually doing harm to their cause.
In December 2010, Israel Shamir, a WikiLeaks associate and an intimate friend of Julian Assange -- so close, in fact, that he outed the Swedish women who claim to be victims of rape and sexual assault by Assange -- allegedly travelled to Belarus with a cache of unredacted American diplomatic cables concerning the country. He reportedly met Lukashenko's chief of staff, Vladimir Makei, handed over the documents to the government, and stayed in the country to "observe" the presidential elections.
Those cables revealed details about pro-democracy advocates that the regime found unsavory.
The following month, Soviet Belarus, a state-run newspaper, began serializing what it claimed to be extracts from the cables gifted to Lukashenko by WikiLeaks. Among the figures "exposed" as recipients of foreign cash were Andrei Sannikov, a defeated opposition presidential candidate presently serving a five-year prison sentence; Oleg Bebenin, Sannikov's press secretary, who was found dead in suspicious circumstances months before the elections; and Vladimir Neklyayev, the writer and former president of Belarus PEN, who also ran against Lukashenko and is now under house arrest.