Portrait of Stefania Maurizi for Valid Values, a project about Julian Assange by Richard Lahuis
Stefania Maurizi in front of the U.S. Embassy, Rome January 2020

Beauty of Bravery

The cover of Stefania Maurizi’s book ‘Secret Power: WikiLeaks and its Enemies’ reflects the results of 7 years of FOIA-investigation into the Assange case: shining a light on the truth, surrounded by shredded evidence and secret powers hiding in the dark.

For the Valid Values project I photographed Maurizi standing in front of the U.S. Embassy in Rome. Through Maurizi's investigation it becomes clear that the building symbolises a monstrous injustice. The building looks beautiful from the outside, but this beauty masks what is being done behind its fenced-off walls by US authorities in the Assange case. Maurizi lifts this mask with precision and reveals an ugly truth of secret powers addicted to impunity, persecuting whistleblowers and journalists brave enough to oppose this iniquity.

What Maurizi reveals in the book is deeply disturbing to anyone who believes that democratic states apply the rule of law, open justice and due process when these democracies are confronted with their own crimes. The entanglement of interests between governments and media to deliberately influence public opinion, in the case of Assange through a highly sophisticated demonisation campaign by involved states, judicial institutions and the media, is alarming for the preservation of a free and independent press and, consequently, for democracy.

The location of the portrait was a deliberate choice. Behind Maurizi rises a bastion of intimidating power, but she looks determined, resolute and brave. For me, it represents the type of journalism Maurizi stands for but it also shows she has to fight this legal battle to access documentation on the Assange case on her own, with the backing of no one. She wrote the book because she felt an ethical duty to report what she has seen, wanting to "help expose how the iron fist in the velvet glove operates". When I asked her to write a statement on her values, she replied that she will leave no stone unturned to allow journalists like Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks journalists and sources like Chelsea Manning to expose war crimes and to live free and safe after exposing them.

This book proves that this was not an exaggeration, she literally turns over every stone, digging for the facts. Maurizi exposes that powers will do anything to stop people from exposing their ugly secrets, they will try to destroy anyone who effectively stands up to them. These powers create division through ugliness. This means that beauty unites us, and this book is a perfect example that imposed darkness can be illuminated by the beauty of bravery. It's up to us to keep that light alive.

Secret Power: WikiLeaks And Its Enemies, foreword by Ken Loach, published by Pluto Press, is available on: