With the news from Wikileaks that Julian Assange is to be expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy “within hours to days,” the British government will soon be putting themselves under pressure from all sides at a time of already heightened tensions in the country. With accusations from both the left and right over the subversion of democracy over the Brexit issue, it is essential that the British take a stand to preserve the rule of law and the freedom of the press.
It was in November of last year that the U.S. government revealed that Assange had been charged and would seek his extradition from the United Kingdom at the first available opportunity. Should he be extradited to the United States, Assange would face life in prison and torture.
United States government figures have flatly denied that Assange will have any constitutional rights once within U.S. borders, Mike Pompeo stating quite clearly that Assange “has no First Amendment privileges”, while Newt Gingrich in 2010 referred to Assange an “enemy combatant”, a line that is entirely in keeping with a 2012 United States Air Force document that revealed that Assange and Wikileaks have been declared “enemies of the U.S.”.
Following six years inside the embassy, living in conditions described as “more and more like solitary confinement,” Assange’s health is confirmed to be failing and Prof. Nils Meltzer, the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and also UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says that extradition would expose Assange to the risk of serious human rights violations.
“Such a response could expose him to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. I therefore urge the Government of Ecuador to abstain from …ceasing or suspending his political asylum until such time as the full protection of his human rights can be guaranteed.”Prof. Nils Meltzer
Just yesterday, British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in conjunction with Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Amal Clooney launched a campaign to “defend media freedom,” Hunt proclaiming that “democratic countries need to stand together to make it an international taboo of the highest order to murder, arrest or detain journalists just for doing their jobs.”
This would appear to be a direct contradiction of Britain’s policy toward Julian Assange. In 2016 the United Nations stated that “[Julian Assange’s confinement] should be brought to an end [and] his physical integrity and freedom of movement [should] be respected. Mr Assange should be afforded the right to compensation.”
The United Nations are certainly not alone in calling for Britain to grant safe passage for Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy, with the likes of John Pilger, Oliver Stone and Noam Chomsky being vocal supporters of the Wikileaks founder, alongside organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Julian Assange has long promised to surrender himself to British police for the outstanding bail issues of 2012, as well as the Swedish police over the charges in that country. Both of these would have been conditional to a guarantee of not being extradited to the United States. Sweden closed its “preliminary investigation” into Assange in 2017 and wished to drop the case in 2013, but under pressure from the British government persisted for a further 4 years. The bail issue is the only outstanding charge that Assange faces outside the United States.
The United States being able to prosecute a non-U.S. publisher under U.S. law would be an overreach on a frightening scale and be the effective expansion of U.S. laws worldwide. It would open the gates to the prosecution of any individual for crimes against the American state in any locality. The precedent would allow, for example, Saudi Arabia or Israel to prosecute journalists exposing their criminality in any other country under their own laws. The move would criminalise truth in the face of state power.
In this age of increasing political turmoil, when media and political institutions alike are under attack from all sides, Wikileaks stands as a testament to the validity of truth in the fake news age. No Wikileaks story has ever been proven false and whether you stand on the left or the right, the freedom of the press and journalism must be sacrosanct.
It was Wikileaks who exposed to the world U.S. crimes in Iraq when they released footage of an Apache attack helicopter strafing innocent civilians in Baghdad, it was Wikileaks who exposed the truth of the corruptions and horrors of the “war on terror,” it was Wikileaks who exposed U.S. collusion with dictatorships and the efforts made by the Obama administration to ensure Bush-era officials walked free from justice. And yes, it was Wikileaks who exposed Hillary Clinton the DNC’s emails, emails which showed the Democrats efforts to bury the campaign of Bernie Sanders.
In the fallout of the leak, the establishment was desperate to “prove” that Wikileaks was the third wheel in a direct conspiracy with the Trump campaign and Russia, suggesting that Paul Manfort met with Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy. These allegations have never been proven, despite the embassy being under near constant surveillance and nobody ever being able to place Manafort at the embassy.
For those who believe that Wikileaks indirectly aided Donald Trump in his election victory, the age-old words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall (frequently misattributed to Voltaire) come to mind: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The impending expulsion and arrest of Assange will serve as a test case for the neo-liberal establishment. Do you truly stand for the values of liberalism and democracy or is it indeed the case which critics contend: that neoliberalism is merely authoritarianism with a pleasant face.
Do you stand with the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Tariq Ali, Jeremy Corbyn and many others… or do you stand with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the American political and military establishment?
Britain must abide by Jeremy Hunt’s own words just yesterday alongside standing international law and set an example not only the rogue Trump regime in the United States but to the world, that the freedom of the press remains in force within Great Britain. The British government must make the first step in “mak[ing] it an international taboo of the highest order to murder, arrest or detain journalists just for doing their jobs.” If Julian Assange is extradited to the United States, then it makes a mockery of any moral high ground that Britain would seek to take in the future regarding press freedoms.
The Washington Post, ironically, added a new slogan to its masthead in 2017, “democracy dies in darkness.” While The Post perhaps has no place taking a moral high-ground, the sentiment still remains a good one. Britain must not turn out one of the last lights still shining in this age of fake news and corporate media. To do so condemns not only Julian Assange, but it condemns the entirety of the free and independent media. Perhaps it condemns more than that, perhaps it condemns the very concept of freedom of thought, speech and conscience.