Oh, the irony! Julian Assange wants to keep his autobiography private

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – responsible for the high-profile leaking of secret US government files – is now hoping to block the publication of own autobiography.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
The autobiography contains Assange’s version of the events in Sweden which led to charges of sexual assault. “I may be a chauvinist pig of some sort," he wrote, "but I am no rapist.”

The irony is irresistible.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who became famous – or infamous, depending on your point of view – for publishing classified information without authorization, is confronting the publication, without his consent, of his own autobiography.

Independent British publisher Canongate Books released “Julian Assange: the Unauthorized Autobiography,” Thursday, against Mr. Assange’s wishes. The book chronicles Assange’s life from his Australian childhood to his time as a teenage computer hacker to the founding of his controversial website and subsequent legal troubles.

Assange, who made many enemies in media organizations and governments around the world after leaking classified documents in WikiLeaks, is doubtless angered by the move to publish against his consent, the Financial Times wryly reported.

“The irony that the operator of the world’s largest whistleblowing site, responsible for releasing hundreds of thousands of secret documents, will himself find his private comments aired in public is likely to raise a smile among diplomats and politicians around the world,” it said in a piece titled “Tables turned on WikiLeaks founder.”

Assange and his nonprofit website WikiLeaks gained worldwide fame with a series of high-profile leaks of secret US files, including the publication of some 250,000 classified State Department cables.

The decision to publish the unauthorized autobiography is the result of a contractual dispute. The 40-year-old founder of WikiLeaks sold Canongate the rights to his memoir last year and began working with a ghostwriter on the book. Canongate sold rights to more than 30 publishers around the world, including Alfred A. Knopf in the US. Meanwhile, Assange recorded more than 50 hours of interviews about his life. At the time, Assange had said he hoped the book would be “one of the unifying documents of our generation.”

But as the project progressed, Assange grew increasingly troubled by the autobiography, perhaps concerned that his interviews might be used against him in court, declaring “all memoir is prostitution.” He tried to cancel his contract with the publisher, but never repaid the advance Canongate gave him (believed to be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds), which Assange used to pay his legal fees. As such, Canongate said, it decided to publish the first draft the WikiLeaks founder delivered to them in March.

Knopf, which also paid Assange a large advance, abandoned its plans for publication.

“We have cancelled our contract for Julian Assange’s memoir,” Knopf said in a statement. “The author did not complete his work on the manuscript or deliver a book to us in accordance with our agreement. We will not be moving forward with our publication.”

According to the BBC, which has seen a version of the book, Assange “says he does not oppose privacy but opposes secrecy by institutions ‘to protect themselves against the truth of the evil they have done’ and says that ‘disclosure is my business, but we don’t deal in gossip.’”

The book also contains a chapter on Assange’s version of events in Sweden, which led to charges of sexual assault and battles over his extradition. He writes of being set up by the US government and maintains that his relations with the two women were consensual.

“I wasn't a reliable boyfriend, or even a very courteous sleeping partner....” the book reads. “I may be a chauvinist pig of some sort, but I am no rapist.”

Canongate said the book is, "like its author, passionate, provocative and opinionated."

No doubt.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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