32. Julian Assange
The WikiLeaks founder has been at the centre of a media storm this year, attracting both support and controversy
- Article history
Hi-tech terrorist or beacon of information freedom, this year it has been impossible to ignore Julian Assange, the public face of WikiLeaks. In December his organisation, the self-styled "intelligence service of the people", released hundreds of classified US embassy cables, rattling nerves at the very top of the US government.
Assange was forced into hiding following the data release, the media storm whipping up even more when he was revealed to have been wanted for questioning over an alleged rape in Sweden, the country WikiLeaks chose as its home, ironically because of its powerful whistleblower protection laws.
The extradition case saw celebrity backers rush to his banner, from Jemima Khan to John Pilger (and the deputy foreign minister of Ecuador, no less). But the controversy did not end there. Having fallen out with the Guardian and New York Times, he has also attracted criticism over the gagging orders that WikiLeaks staff have to sign. This is probably why Assange was deemed to have "gone up but with downward tendencies", in the words of one panellist.
WikiLeaks was launched in 2007 with a mission to change the world by abolishing official secrecy.
The site claims a range of founders but Assange remains its colourful, charismatic, impossible driving force. Even so, only so much is known about the silvery haired, quietly spoken man himself. His background – he was raised in Melbourne and convicted of computer hacking when he was a teenager is as much as we know – is information he thinks it wise not to share with the world at large.