WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be made an honorary citizen of Leuven, according to the committee set up to support him in his long-running legal problems.
Assange, the world’s best-known whistle-blower, is currently in a cell in the UK on charges of criminal conspiracy and computer offences. He was arrested last April after spending nearly seven years inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, taking refuge from the law.
“We especially want to ask for recognition for Julian Assange, and by extension for whistle-blower Chelsea Manning,” said Fred Guldentops of the Leuven Assange Committee.
“For example, the city could name a street after them, or after all whistle-blowers in general. Or make them honorary citizens of Leuven.”
The committee created a petition to that end, which has been signed by 1,000 people – enough for a motion to be brought before the city council.
The chances of success of the petition cannot be predicted, although it has been pointed out that Assange, an Australian national, has never had any contact with Leuven.
The Assange petition comes with an accompanying demand: that Leuven introduce a special status for whistle-blowers who work for the city administration.
“That way, the employees get legal protection when they want to reveal internal abuses,” said Guldentops.
If nothing else, Assange is a colourful character. Born Julian Paul Hawkins in 1971 in Queensland, Australia, he took his surname from his mother’s second husband. He lived a nomadic early life, following his mother around Australia with the cult known as The Family.
He began hacking at the age of 16 under the name Mendax, which means ‘untruthful’, forming a hacking group with two others called Trax and Prime Suspect, calling themselves the International Subversives.
In 1989 at the age of 18 he and his wife Teresa has a child, who became the object of a long-running custody battle, during which the stress allegedly caused his hair to turn white.
He does have one link with Chelsea Manning. In 2010 Manning, a military intelligence analyst, leaked classified material to WikiLeaks, which led to an arrest and a 35-year sentence in 2013. In 2017 US president Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to seven years dating from her arrest in 2010 and she was released.
However, she ended up in prison again from March 2019 to March this year, after she refused to testify as a witness in a trial of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.