WikiLeaks on SIF ban: ‘How can you exclude Snowden from internet freedom debate?’
Banning leading whistleblowers from the conference undermines its whole concept, WikiLeaks spokesperson and investigative journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson said.
“How can you exclude WikiLeaks? How can you exclude Edward Snowden? How can you exclude discussing the explosive revelations by these important whistleblowers that have stepped forward in the last few years, totally changing the entire perception of the internet and raising serious questions of the future of the internet? If you want to discuss internet freedom you have to have these elements there,” he said.
The third annual European conference, SIF, opened on Monday in the Swedish capital, where internet activists gathered to have their say on this year’s topic: “Internet – privacy, transparency, surveillance and control.”
The forum, organized by the Swedish Foreign Ministry, claims that “freedom and openness” are among its “key concepts.”
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) May 28, 2014
However, those concepts seem to have their limits, as major internet rights advocates who opened the public's eyes on the scale of internet spaying were actually banned from attending the gathering. Among those who failed to receive an invite were former CIA employee Snowden (who revealed the NSA's mass spying program), journalist Glenn Greenwald (who broke the story), representatives of WikiLeaks, and hacker Jacob Appelbaum.
The move caused a storm of criticism on Twitter, and many participants of the forum aimed to get a clear answer from organizers as to why the most prominent defenders of internet privacy were not invited.
I have been silenced this year from attending #SIF14 in person as have others. This is the result of speaking out against mass surveillance.— Jacob Appelbaum (@ioerror) May 26, 2014
According to German magazine Cicero Online, the Swedish Foreign Ministry said earlier in a comment that a key ambition of the conference was to have an equal number of male and female invitees and that at least a half of them had to be from developing countries.
“We’ve seen it as important to not to look into the whistleblowing process as such or to revelations as such. What we believe we should do is to discuss how we can find solutions in order to protect human rights in an environment where surveillance is a reality,” Olof Ehrenkrona, advisor to the Swedish foreign minister, said at the event.
Hrafnsson called the excuse “not very credible.”
“I mean how you can discuss the problems of the internet and the dangers of mass surveillance there without analyzing the problem and actually inviting the people who are experts in the field?” the WikiLeaks spokesperson said.
“This is a forum that is sponsored by the Foreign Ministry of Sweden and Carl Bildt, the foreign minister. We have known ever since 2011-2012 that they were not interested to have any elements there critical of the US government and the activities of the US agencies. We were blacklisted - I mean WikiLeaks and people associated with WikiLeaks - back in 2012. And they have a blacklist now. They deny it and actually humorously claim that they don’t have a blacklist, that they only have a list of people that [were] invited and a list of people who they have not invited. But that is a blacklist and that has been confirmed.”
Cicero magazine published what it claims to be an earlier correspondence between WikiLeaks and the SIF organizers, where the Foreign Ministry allegedly explains why the organization could not be present.
According to published e-mails, the ministry said that “there is a limit to how many participants we were able invite to the Stockholm Internet Forum, which ultimately depends on the size of the conference room...thus only selected participants could be invited.”
— jens Karberg (@jenskarberg) May 28, 2014
Hrafnsson said the decision did not surprise him.
“If you look at the revelations both by WikiLeaks and by Edward Snowden, you see the role that Sweden plays behind this façade of neutrality. Basically they are lapdogs of the US government,” he said.
However, the WikiLeaks spokesman still believes that “we are going to see more whistleblowers and we are going to see more revelations about the internet” in the future.