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The Australian Government's silence in the face of prominent Americans' death threats against Julian Assange made it complicit in undermining the safety of Australians overseas and posed a threat to freedom of speech at home, a Sydney rally to support Wikileaks heard today.
Speaking before hundreds of protesters who also heard calls for Assange to be nominated Australian of the Year, NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said the Australian Government was wrong to draw a line between the "online community and the real-world community". (Russian President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday said Assange should be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.)
It was one of a dozen rallies to be held across Australia in coming days and came a few hours after the first rally in Brisbane.
"A core right is right to open information, the right to know what's going on," Shoebridge said.
"Why is it that our Government, they can pick on Julian Assange and Wikileaks? And not the media? Because they think there's a distinction between the online community and the real-world community.
"Increasingly the conversations we're having at home, across the dinner table, in the pub and the street is coming from information we find through open sources on the internet."
The Australian publisher of the Wikileaks whistleblowers' site was taken into custody on Wednesday for alleged sex misdemeanours in Sweden but supporters believed it was a trap to squirrel him off to the US where he may already face a secret Grand Jury, supporters said today.
Even if Assange returned home, Shoebridge said there was a possibility that Australian laws would be changed to retrospectively make illegal Wikileaks work of leaking embarrassing documents to the internet.
"What an outrage that would be," Shoebridge said.
"The online community and real-world community are one and the same - we have the power to organise online and speak as one through the information we get through a free internet and if the Government of Australia think they can step on Julian Assange just because he's an online organiser then they have another thing coming."
Asher Wolf, the Melbourne-based editor of WLCentral.org, a website geared to covering the events surrounding Wikileaks that attracted about 1.9 million hits a day, said she was fearful that as an "associate" of Wikileaks that she would be hunted down and assassinated following such calls from US commentators.
"Wikileaks is an important public institution. Without transparency there can be no accountability and without accountability there can be no democracy," Wolf said.
To a loud round of boos, Green Left Weekly co-editor Simon Butler said he wanted to "send a message to the CEOs of Visa, Mastercard and Paypal ", several of whom had DDoS attacks levelled at their websites.
"I want to say to you: bet you didn't see that coming," Butler said.
"For any corporation or government that wants to silence Wikileaks our messsage is that you're not going to win. There are thousands of people around the world hosting websites - even the Government of Bolivia has joined us."
He said a "fiercely independent" Wikileaks posed a threat to the established political order and journalists and said a "fitting award" for its style of journalism was to give Assange Australian of the Year.
And he ridiculed the Australian Government response to US conservative and failed vide-presidential hopeful's Sarah Palin's calls for Assange's killing: "How is it that a prominent person in the US can call for the assassination of an Australian and the Australian Government not say back off - worse, they join in?"
A speaker who said he was Keith Dodd, an American IT worker for a US technology company, asked if the world was "looking at the death of the free internet"?
He said the "Internet Kill Switch" proposal before the US Congress would threaten free speech.
"Many of us in the technology world were excited about and drawn to and embraced the net because of its profound revolutionary potential," Dodd said.
"Anyone could be a publisher or editor or as a student create a company like YouTube or Google.
Are we looking at the death of that when the US Government leans on companies and they ingloriously rolled over without asking for legal paper," he said in reference to Amazon, PayPal, Visa, Mastercard and others denying service to Wikileaks this week.
"In all the furore let us not ignore that the content of that is driving the American security apparatus crazy because it's exposing crimes going back generations and where the US Government tears up the First Amendment every day."
Photos by Ry Crozier
Do you think Julian Assange should be nominated for Australian of the Year? Tell us what you think of Wikileaks investigative journalism below.
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