What's happening to those named WikiLeaks sources?

Earlier this week, I wrote about the case of two Zimbabwean generals who may face treason charges for comments about their superiors made in a confidential conversation with the U.S. ambassador, and whose names were subsequently revealed in last month's unredacted WikiLeaks dump. 

That case still seems to be pending, but there's been another troubling development in Ethiopia, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists: 

U.S. diplomatic cables disclosed last month by WikiLeaks cited an Ethiopian journalist by name and referred to his unnamed government source, forcing the journalist to flee the country after police interrogated him over the source's identity, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. It is the first instance CPJ has confirmed in which a citation in one of the cables has caused direct repercussions for a journalist.

On September 5 and 6, officials from Ethiopia's Government Communication Affairs Office (GCAO) summoned journalist Argaw Ashine to their offices in the capital, Addis Ababa, with his press accreditation, Ashine told CPJ on Tuesday. He was summoned because he had been cited in an October 26, 2009, cable from the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia regarding purported GCAO plans in 2009 to silence the now-defunct Addis Neger, then the country's leading independent newspaper, local journalists said.

On September 8, Ashine was summoned again, this time by police, who interrogated him and gave him 24 hours to either reveal the identity of his source at the GCAO office or face unspecified consequences, the journalist told CPJ. Ashine fled Ethiopia over the weekend. He has requested that his current location not be disclosed for safety reasons.

Given that a central tenet of WikiLeaks' model is protecting the identity of its sources, it seems pretty tough to defend the exposing of a journalist in an authoritarian country, even if it embarasses the U.S. government in the process. 

The Christian Science Monitor also reports (via the essential twitter source for all things WikiLeaks Trevor Timm) that, so far at least, Chinese sources named in the cable don't seem to be suffering consequences:

Two weeks after WikiLeaks posted unredacted versions of a quarter of a million U.S. diplomatic cables, revealing the names of American embassies’ local contacts around the world, there are no signs of repercussions for Chinese sources, according to people who have themselves been “outed.”

“Nothing has happened to me, yet, and I have not heard of anyone else getting into trouble,” says Wang Zhenyu, a Beijing lawyer who says he has often met U.S. diplomats to discuss the progress of legal reform in China and whose name was meant to have been “strictly protected” according to a cable that quotes him.

“I don’t think I’ll have any problem from the government, though some ordinary people do not understand," adds Wang Xiaodong, an outspoken nationalist ideologue with a large following on the Web, who also shared his insights with American diplomats, according to the leaked cables.

Update: Another piece from the Globe and Mail's Mark MacKinnon notes that while there have been no legal consequences, the response from China's nationalist internet has been furious

Some of China’s top academics and human rights activists are being attacked as “rats” and “spies” after their names were revealed as U.S. Embassy sources in the unredacted WikiLeaks cables that have now been posted online.

The release of the previously protected names has sparked an online witch-hunt by Chinese nationalist groups, with some advocating violence against those now known to have met with U.S. Embassy staff. “When the time comes, they should be arrested and killed,” reads one typical posting on a prominent neo-Maoist website.

The repercussions could indeed be dire in some circumstances, particularly for Tibetan and Uighur activists exposed as having passed information to Washington. In other cases – including some Communist Party officials named as “protected” or “strictly protected” sources – the fallout is more likely to be embarrassment or perhaps lost promotions.

We'll continue to track the fallout for the sources in the days ahead.

Passport

Decline watch: How poor is America?

When Janis Joplin sang, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," the current economic doldrums probably aren't what she had in mind. Nevertheless, a dispiriting U.S. Census Bureau report revealed that more Americans than ever are impoverished. 2.6 million Americans dropped below the poverty line in 2010, expanding the ranks of America's poor to 46.2 million -- the highest number in the over half-century that this has been tracked.

Comparing international poverty statistics can be a dicey business because the cost of living varies across continents and countries set their own national poverty lines. However, it is helpful in determining how other countries perceive their poverty problem and provides some context for the relative impoverishment of the United States.

In Europe, the rising U.S. poverty rate -- which currently stands at 15.1 percent -- would not raise eyebrows among the continent's major economies. 15.5 percent of Germans were living below the poverty line in 2010, and the country is divided into regions of haves and have- nots. France does a little better, but not much: 13.5 percent of French citizens in 2009 lived off less than 60 percent of the median household income, which the European Union uses as its poverty threshold.

Things get trickier when trying to compare U.S. poverty rates to those in China. By the Chinese government's own standards, only 2.8 percent of rural Chinese were living below the poverty line in 2004. That's hard to believe, as the World Bank reported that the per capita income of all Chinese that year, after correcting for regional price disparities, was only $3,590.

But while the precise figures may be fuzzy, the trends in China's war against poverty are clear. Using the World Bank's own standards, the number of Chinese below the poverty line fell from 65 percent to 10 percent between 1981 and 2004 -- an advance that removed more than half a billion Chinese from the ranks of the country's impoverished. The United States may still be far richer than China -- but the trends are heading in the wrong direction.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images