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The Panama Papers: The "John Doe" Manifesto

Tom Devine Posted by Tom Devine.

Tom Devine is legal director of the Government Accountability Project, where he has worked to assist thousands of whistleblowers to come forward and has been involved in the all of the campaigns to pass or defend major whistleblower laws over the last two decades.


Over a year ago, a source who referred to himself as “John Doe”, released the Panama Papers to the German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Over a year ago, a source who referred to himself as “John Doe”, released the Panama Papers to the German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The release sent shockwaves around the globe, leading to multiple raids, resignations of prominent politicians, and widespread public protest about apparently unethical conduct among high-level government officials and businesspeople. Recently, “John Doe” released a manifesto that explains his actions and emphasizes the role of whistleblowers as advocates of transparency and accountability.

In particular, he describes the bleak post-disclosure reality that many whistleblowers face as they are exposed to ruinous retaliation. 

I have watched as one after another, whistleblowers and activists in the United States and Europe have had their lives destroyed by the circumstances they find themselves in after shining a light on obvious wrongdoing.

He mentions Edward Snowden’s exile, Bradley Birkenfeld’s prison sentence and Antoine Deltour’s current criminal trial.

Given this state of affairs, we at GAP can see the choice of anonymity for whistleblowers; it can too often offer the only protection from powerful institutions that will seek to destroy an individual whose disclosures threaten them rather than address the problem. Ideally, meaningful protections, enforced by governments and supported by the public, would shield those whose disclosures advance the public interest from retaliation, and the promotion of these measures is our focus.  

As John Doe writes:

Legitimate whistleblowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution, full stop…

You can read John Doe’s manifesto here!

Author: 
Bea Edwards