CensorshipPoliticsSocial Media

Twisting the Tweets: Assange’s Gag Goes Much Deeper Than Catalonia

tweets assange gag catalonia
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Wikileaks editor Julian Assange loses his internet connection through a tricky twist of Tweets, but it wasn’t just about Catalonia; it goes much deeper.

The drama began to unfold on Twitter yesterday when Ecuador’s newly appointed president, Lenin Moreno, didn’t take too kindly to the Wikileaks editor’s criticism over the arrest of Catalonia’s “president-elect” or “independence movement leader” (depending on whose side you’re on) in Germany, but this was just the tip of the iceberg as to why he was really silenced.

For starters, Assange took to Twitter to share a little bit of history and compared it to modern times in two sentences. Those two sentences, in Moreno’s regime’s eyes, were excuse enough to disconnect Assange’s internet, but it goes much deeper.

Moreno decided to punish Assange, who had been working remotely at the British Embassy in Ecuador since June of 2012, but his Catalonia quotes may not have been the only reason.

Rumors began to spread quickly that Assange was silenced under some type of gag agreement, but within an hour it was quickly quashed.

It is important to note that although Assange is Australian by birth, he was granted citizenship in Ecuador in January. The Daily Mail reported yesterday, “As part of an agreement between Mr Assange and the Ecuadorean government, he is not permitted to send any messages that could interfere with the South American nation’s relations with other countries.”

RT had a slightly different wording, saying that Assange “vowed not to send messages interfering in the affairs of other sovereign states.”

Another report on The Register more accurately describes the Ecuadorean Embassy’s reasons, “Assange’s behavior, through his messages on social media, has put our good relations with the United Kingdom and the rest of states in the European Union at risk.”

But there is a Catch 22 to the issue. Wikileaks cited the Ecuadorean Constitution in a Tweet that seems to invalidate the vaguely-worded report about Assange’s agreement with the Ecuadorean government.

The question here is which takes presidence, the agreement or the constitution? It also raises the question, how can two little sentences on Twitter spark such a drastic action? Together they appear to be true, and if you separate the two sentences and take them out of context, they are mutually and exclusively valid.

Is this a dangerous sentence?

“In 1940 the elected president of Catalonia, Lluís Companys, was captured by the Gestapo, at the request of Spain, delivered to them and executed.”

How about this one?

“Today, German police have arrested the elected president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, at the request of Spain, to be extradited.”

What is important to understand here is the controversy over the Catalonian independence movement. Most main stream news outlets refer to Puigdemont as the “leader” of the movement, but they do not recognize him as an elected official, and definitely not the president.

Was this Assange’s alleged crime for lack of a better word?

If he had excluded the words “elected president of Catalonia,” would President Moreno have come down so harsh on him? Was this reason enough to be considered something that “could interfere with the South American nation’s relations with other countries,” or was Moreno under pressure from outside sources?

“Only extraordinary pressure from the US and the Spanish governments can explain why Ecuador’s authorities should have taken such appalling steps in isolating Julian,” said Former Greek minister Yanis Varoufakis and musician Brian Eno in a statement.

No government wants to be compared to Nazis, but when history repeats itself so similarly, it’s hard not to make the comparison, and that’s what good journalists do — they investigate and inform.

Censoring someone over a Tweet that informs audiences about real news and one that provides context to the news, in most cases, would be considered good journalism.

However, there is another twist to the Tweets that may have been a factor in the Ecuadorian government’s decision to shut up the Wikileaks editor.

Lluís Companys was executed under a fascist regime. Companys’ fate, in the context of the Tweet, could be construed as having something to do with Puigdemont’s unknown fate after extradition.

Nobody came out and said “Companys was executed, so the same will happen to Puigdemont,” but the Tweet implies a motive, but what was Assange’s motive? Unfortunately, he can’t really respond right now.

Another Tweet; however, could be the tipping point that blows the whole scandal wide open!

The “‘Watergate’ of Ecudor [sic]” alludes to interactions between Italy’s Hacking Team (HT) and Ecuador’s SENAIN intelligence agency.

The El Universo article cited in the last Tweet explains what went down in the fiasco that Assange was broadcasting.

Hacking Team was condemned in 2015 when a whistleblower leaked, “the program was sold to countries that used it to spy on activists or political opponents, such as Morocco or Sudan. That is why it has been denounced by human rights organizations. The publication of HT’s emails revealed that the list of clients included Ethiopia, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Panama, Mexico and Ecuador.”

You can read Hacking Team’s version of the story in their blog post “ON OUR SECURITY BREACH,” in which they explain:

“The worst of today’s news media continue their unfair and inaccurate vilification of Hacking Team. The latest comes in the wake of a self-promoting essay by someone who claims responsibility for last summer’s attack on this company. The essay writer claims to explain how he executed the attack, but inaccuracies in his story only go to show he is not really as smart as he thinks he is.”

However, according to the only three documents of the leaked contract, the Senain acquired licenses to use Hacking Team’s Remote Control System.

The purchase was for three years with a total of 30 packages to infect and monitor computers with Windows and MacOS programs, as well as Android, iPhone, BlackBerry and Symbian phones. Vectors were included to infect the equipment physically and remotely, in addition to the maintenance and updating of the program.

While developers suspect that the Hacking Team (HT) spy program is still working, the National Secretariat of Intelligence of Ecuador (Senain) has not confirmed whether or not it terminated its relationship with the Italian company.

At the beginning of March, the WeLiveSecurity portal published an article warning that HT’s spyware continues to evolve, possibly due to changes made by its creators and would be present in fourteen countries.

So why was Assange silenced? In a single word: Tweeting.

Tweeting about Catalonian leaders – a highly controversial and sensitive topic but not outside the boundaries of journalism; and Tweeting about Ecuador hiring a private Italian hacking company that has an alleged history of abusing human rights.

Alleged pressure from foreign governments that have been exposed by Wikileaks as engaging in illegal activities also adds to the motivation for silencing him.

So, why hasn’t Julian Assange said anything in his defense? If you’ve paid attention to anything, you should already know the answer to that.

1 Comment

  1. I can’t read your article because your side bar on the right cuts it off.

    That’s a shame. I wonder how many people just close out the page because of this.

    This probably was good article, I don’t know. Please fix the format.

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Tim Hinchliffe
Tim Hinchliffe is a veteran journalist whose passions include writing about how technology impacts society and Artificial Intelligence. He prefers writing in-depth, interesting features that people actually want to read. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa, and Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co