Monday, 15 April 2019

The war on freedom of expression: the arrest of Julian Assange

Julian Assange was arrested last week. He was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the police. According to Prime Minister Theresa May, he was arrested on the grounds of bail violation and an extradition request from the American government. Assange later appeared before a magistrates' court, where the district judge, demonstrating his impartiality, described Assange as a narcissist. The arrest of Julian Assange is part of a much larger war on freedom of expression, and especially, the war on any attempt to challenge official narratives.

The US charge against Assange does not even make sense. The US allege that Assange conspired with Bradley Manning (as he then was) to hack a US Department of Defence computer. This charge is undermined by the fact that Manning had first tried to release the documents to the New York Times and the Washington Post. Neither outlet was prepared to publish these damning documents. Manning only then provided WikiLeaks with the documents. This sequence shows that Manning was in possession of the documents before any contact with WikiLeaks, which disproves the allegation. Furthermore, the US charge would require Manning to give evidence against Assange, but it is clear Manning is unwilling to do so. Manning is in fact being held in indefinite detention precisely because he has refused to provide any such testimony. The imprisonment of Chelsea Manning (as she is now) should in itself be a scandal. Manning is being held in indefinite detention until she provides a US prosecutor with testimony to indict another person. When prosecutors can use such tactics, no one is safe.

It is clear that the US charge against Julian Assange is simply a trumped up charge designed to provide the verisimilitude of due process, when the motive is really revenge for his publication of evidential proof of US war crimes.

The US persuaded Ecuador to go along with this travesty by a mixture of money and diplomatic support. Following a visit by Mike Pence, Ecuador received ten billion dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international financial institutions dominated by the US. Ecuador also received ringing endorsements from western political leaders and much praise in the western corporate media. In return, Lenin Moreno revoked Assange's asylum and the Ecuadorian ambassador in London invited the police into the embassy to arrest Julian.

The British government went along with Washington's plan without any such obvious inducements. However, some members of parliament, whilst keen to participate in the persecution of Assange, were somewhat squeamish about being seen to be involved in such a blatant attempt to criminalise the publication of accurate information. Instead, they called for Assange to be extradited to Sweden on the basis of allegations of sexual misconduct, even though the Swedish prosecutor dropped the case years ago and there is no such extradition request. Whilst this move is patently absurd, it has not only the benefit of enabling them to pretend they are not persecuting Assange for journalism, it also enables them to attack Jeremy Corbyn as someone who is a supporter of sexual predators, an entirely new smear in the library of baseless smears against the Labour leader.

In the midst of all this propaganda, the facts that the documents WikiLeaks published revealed are silenced. The shocking images of helicopter gunship shooting down civilians are not shown in the television broadcasts on the story. This silence speaks volumes. Those who are participating in the persecution of Julian Assange are intent on silencing any and all challenges to the official narratives. They are engaged in a war on freedom of expression.

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