British Hypocrisy and Julian Assange
Why calls for press freedom and open journalism by the United Kingdom are entirely superficial in nature.
Earlier this year in April, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by British authorities after being forced to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London, a location in which he had stayed in since 2012 as an asylum seeker. Assange was subsequently sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail back in 2012 and delaying justice.
The 50–week sentence was a mere two weeks off of the maximum that could be placed on Assange. The sentencing that took place, at least on the surface, had little to nothing to do with the ongoing feud between the United States and WikiLeaks. He was sentenced to HM Prison Belmarsh, a prison that used to be referred to as “Britain’s Guantánamo Bay” because of the poor conditions that inmates were often subject to in the post-9/11 era.
During his time in HMP Belmarsh, many human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and groups within the United Nations, have actively criticized the British authorities for not correctly handling the case in regards to proper treatment of the award-winning journalist. According to The Guardian, Assange was set to be released from HMP Belmarsh on September 22, 2019. However, Vanessa Baraitser, the district judge, explained that she sees “substantial grounds” for keeping Assange in prison. The Guardian also reported the following statement provided by Baraitser:
“You have been produced today because your sentence of imprisonment is about to come to an end. When that happens your remand status changes from a serving prisoner to a person facing extradition.”
Earlier this year in May, Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture expressed a very bold statement in regards to the conditions of Assange:
“In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.”
Pamela Anderson, a close friend of Assange and a popular figure, has also consistently been demonstrating her outspoken support for the imprisoned journalist. She has outlined the poor conditions of the prison, the usage of “psychological torture”, and how his life is at risk.
So why is Assange still locked up in HMP Belmarsh? Well, as mentioned earlier, Baraitser explained how his status is not just a “serving prisoner” anymore, but rather a “person facing extradition”. In turn, this is showcasing a small glimpse into what looks to be an abysmal future for Assange in regards to being extradited to the United States.
He was charged with violating the Espionage Act under 18 counts for his collaboration with former network analyst, Chelsea Manning, back in 2010. The partnership resulted in the publishing of various war crimes and most famously, the Collateral Murder video in which over a dozen civilians were killed, alongside two Reuters journalists by the United States military via Apache helicopter fire.
Going beyond the conditions that Assange has faced throughout these last several months, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office (FCO) has called for press freedom, open journalism, and hostility against countries that suppress dissidents such as Saudi Arabia. They released a video on the FCO’s Twitter account that discusses the importance of free journalism and the truth, all while simultaneously working as part of the state that is keeping Assange locked up for promoting press freedom, contributing to open journalism, and speaking out against a country (the United States) for suppressing dissidents and whistleblowers!
The vast majority of replies to the video have primarily been about releasing Assange and the absurdity of the mere notion that this state department can even think about discussing this at such a pivotal time in the world regarding journalism, WikiLeaks, and Assange altogether.
People tend to argue that Assange is not a journalist, but rather a dangerous “cyber terrorist” and criminal for exposing…criminals? There is no feasible way to disprove the idea that Assange is a journalist when the evidence is already there. Both Assange and WikiLeaks have won many awards for journalism, including but not limited to awards from The Economist, TIME Magazine, and more. The editor-in-chief for WikiLeaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, has also won many awards regarding titles such as “Journalist of the Year”.
Looking at the tweet above, it is rather clear that the United States is effectively requesting extradition of a journalist for conducting, well, journalism. That is almost entirely a fact unless we try to do some mental gymnastics in favour of the often used argument of ‘national security’. Many people, even critics of Assange, have called for the request to be pulled because of the insane precedent that it sets for media freedom and journalism regarding the United States. If Assange is to be prosecuted for revealing crimes through leaked classified information, then nearly any other journalist that decides to engage in investigative journalism with leaked state documents can face similar crimes.
Let’s not forget what the Espionage Act was initially created for as well: Stopping treason and obtaining classified information for the benefit of a foreign government. It’s blatantly apparent that Assange is not a spy of any country, nor is he secretly getting documents to give to a particular country. Assange and WikiLeaks have consistently outlined their motto: “We Open Governments”. All the information published is available for everyone to see, not just a few select individuals within a foreign government.
The hypocrisy of the FCO regarding journalism cannot be overstated. While Assange is locked up and is facing extradition regardless of what experts in the field have said, the country cannot argue for protecting journalists and dissidents from other countries.
The fight for journalism is still ongoing, and there is no sign of it stopping anytime soon.