"One of the best ways to achieve justice is to expose injustice." – Julian Assange.
Julian Assange, is founder of WikiLeaks, the organisation that, over the past decade, launched and inspired the flood of data leaks around the world, exposing the secret misdeeds of the previously untouchable in politics and business. Assange has since been the victim of an intense smear campaign. Like most people, he is no saint. But when you fully inform yourself of his case and his work, he’s on the right side of history.
For publishing leaks exposing the misdeeds of the US military in the Middle East, the US political and defence establishments are determined to get their hands on Assange “to lock him up for 175 years”.
In 2012 he was arrested in Britain on an Interpol warrant calling for his extradition to Sweden to face sexual offence charges there. While on bail pending the extradition hearing, he learned that the warrant was probably a ruse to hand him over to the United States authorities. (The Swedish sexual offence charges have since been withdrawn.)
Assange decided to accept the offer of asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Over the past year, after he had effectively been incarcerated in the embassy for seven years, a change of government in Ecuador saw him expelled from the embassy into the hands of UK police who arrested him for jumping bail those seven years ago.
Charged in court, he was sentenced to 50 days’ imprisonment in London’s Belmarsh Prison pending a hearing set to take place in February, when a judge will determine whether he should be extradited to the US – or not.
In October former British ambassador Craig Murray published an eyewitness account of Assange’s current state describing him as exhibiting “exactly the symptoms of a torture victim.”
In a separate report, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer accused the UK government of “outright contempt for Mr Assange’s rights and integrity”.
“I have never seen a single person [who] has been deliberately isolated and, I would say, persecuted – not prosecuted, but persecuted – by several democratic states in a concerted effort to break his will. The more I looked at the facts of this case, the more repelled I became,” he said.
Responding to these statements 60 medical doctors sent a petition to the UK government in which they state: “It is our opinion that Mr Assange requires urgent expert medical assessment of both his physical and psychological state of health,” they wrote. “There is no time to lose.”
Free press advocates see Assange as the victim of an unprecedented assault on journalism because the WikiLeaks publisher faces 18 charges in the US under the Espionage Act, making Assange the first publisher to face charges under that law. They quite rightly say that the case USA versus Julian Paul Assange criminalises journalism wherever it might be practised. Assange is not a US citizen, has not published or operated in America, and is not subject to US laws.
The court that Assange is destined for in Virginia, USA, is a non-transparent, closed court. His defence lawyers will not be allowed in.
Decent people everywhere are saying: “NO EXTRADITION for Assange.” Entities that want to hide corruption will win if Assange is jailed.
If the USA sets a legal precedent – that it’s right to reach across borders to extradite any foreign journalist – then no journalist in the world will be safe from US extra-territorial reach.
This precedent could be copied by China or Iran, for example.
South Africans have benefitted from fearless whistle-blowers, journalists and publishers who hold power to account. We can be proud of our investigative journalists and whistle-blowers who inter-alia brought us the Gupta Leaks and exposed State Capture. In a similar way, WikiLeaks has exposed corruption, state capture and war crimes in Iraq.
WikiLeaks was designed by Assange as a safe place for whistle-blowers to expose corruption. He perfected the encrypted Dropbox, copied by others. WikiLeaks is a fact-based antidote to fake news.
Given that WikiLeaks has a 100% accuracy record, why is the US so keen to lock up Assange for “175 years”? Why has the USA leaned on the UK, Sweden and Ecuador to keep Assange in legal limbo – as the USA Secret Grand Jury prepared its indictment? Why did Ecuador’s new US-friendly president allow the CIA to spy on Assange in London from 2018, then illegally end his asylum? Why did Sweden on three occasions drop the case and never charge Assange, only to be told “don’t get cold feet” by the UK?
South Africans value proper judicial process, not closed kangaroo courts.
South Africans remember the apartheid era when the state silenced journalists, often by detention. Now we see Assange in solitary in a UK jail: sick, 30kg underweight; not allowed access to the internet, a library or an international phone to call his US lawyer or family in Australia.
The powers-that-be in the UK contrived to appoint a judge for the extradition proceedings whose husband and son are both employed by UK security agencies to design programmes in response to WikiLeaks’ exposure of the misdeeds hidden in their systems. She refused to recuse herself when confronted with this conflict of interest – until shortly before Noseweek went to press, when the growing scandal finally overwhelmed her.
Who, one asks, will be appointed to succeed her? Why does the UK shamefully bend rules to lubricate Assange’s delivery into US hands?
Ordinary people who value free speech need to speak out – and have started to do so.
This editorial and our report in this issue are based on material supplied by a group of South African WikiLeaks supporters who wish to remain anonymous. – The Editor.
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