The Foreign Service Journal, October 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2022 19 SPEAKING OUT WikiLeaks Damage Lives On: The Case of Marafa Hamidou Yaya BY N I E LS MARQUARDT Niels Marquardt was a Foreign Service officer from 1980 to 2013. He led Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative from 2001 to 2004, then served as ambassador to Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, and the Comoros. His final assignment was as consul general in Sydney, where he stayed until 2017 as CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia. Ambassador (ret.) Marquardt currently volunteers as diplomat in residence at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. T he U.K. government decision in June to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to face prosecu- tion for crimes related to the release in 2010 of hundreds of thousands of stolen confidential U.S. government documents brings him one step closer to justice. No doubt he will appeal that deci- sion, but I deeply hope that he will lose again and soon find himself facing justice before an American court. Only then will the world see and, perhaps, fully understand the enormous damage his crimes inflicted on innocent friends and allies around the globe. This may also give the lie to the remarkably widely held fiction that Assange’s crimes had no victims and that his actions were somehow brave, harmless, or even worthy of admiration. It is high time to start pushing back forcefully on the deeply mistaken notion that actions by Assange, perceived by many to be a sort of modern-day Robin Hood, advanced press freedom or brought welcome transparency to the workings of government. They did not. Instead, they illegally undermined the necessarily confidential basis of infor- mation sharing that makes diplomacy possible and advances America’s global interests in the process. I write this column as a retired Ameri- can diplomat whose normal embassy reporting, like that of many colleagues, was compromised by Assange’s indis- criminate release of that infamous cache of stolen documents more than a decade ago. No one seems able to say howmany people, including many of America’s close friends, were damaged worldwide by the WikiLeaks release. But I know well of at least one case, where a good man has now spent more than a decade in prison for alleged crimes never proven in court. This happened in Cameroon, where I served as U.S. ambas- sador from 2004 to 2007. There, shortly after the WikiLeaks release, Kansas University graduate Marafa Hamidou Yaya was jailed and subjected to a short “kangaroo court” proceeding that resulted in a 25-year prison sentence on entirely unproven cor- ruption charges. Arbitrary Detention Before his arrest, Mr. Marafa had served in various high-level ministe- rial positions in Cameroon, including as secretary-general of the presidency, arguably the nation’s second-most powerful post. Our embassy, then led by Ambassador Robert Jackson, witnessed his trial and denounced it as the farce it was; no evidence was presented, yet he was found guilty on all charges. Since then, the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report to Con- gress has listed Mr. Marafa as a political prisoner in Cameroon. He is jailed in a military prison in a damp cell with no daylight. After his arrest, his loyal secretary of 20 years was savagely assas- sinated in her home, and his wife died without having a chance to visit her husband even once. The United Nations has formally declared Mr. Marafa’s detention arbitrary and demanded his immediate release and compensation for the damages he has suffered. He has petitioned repeat- edly for his own release on health-related grounds, and many outsiders have also weighed in on his behalf. I and seven other former U.S. ambas- sadors to Cameroon have written to successive U.S. administrations for assis- tance in seeking Mr. Marafa’s release, so far without effect. Ambassadors (ret.) Frances Cook, Harriet Isom, Charles Twining, John Yates, George Staples, Janet Garvey, and Robert Jackson all know and respect him and have joined me in formally demanding his release. The Biden administration is fully aware of this situation but, to my knowledge, has