The current predicament of Julian Assange should be of concern to both journalists and freedom loving citizens alike. Since his removal from the Ecuadorian embassy in April last year where he had spent the previous seven years trapped in forced asylum, Assange is now currently imprisoned within H.M Belmarsh Prison. His crime, violating bail conditions for seeking refuge within a foreign embassy from the fraudulent charge of sexual assault that was ultimately designed to extradite him to the US. These fabricated charges have long since been dropped, however Assange’s incarceration continues.
Sedated and kept in isolation for long periods of time without adequate access to his lawyers, his incarceration is taking a heavy toll. The real danger Assange faces is extradition to the United States. If brought to trial in the US he is facing over 175 years in prison upon 17 charges of espionage for publishing evidence of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The larger ramifications of Assange’s situation should serve as a wake up call to journalists and citizens alike. Around the world under the guise of anti terrorism legislation governments have been establishing vast systems of secrecy and censorship through the mechanism of national security. These structures have enabled governments to commit illegal acts and war crimes and then afterwards cover up their actions under secrecy classifications.
Whenever evidence of their immoral or illegal activity does enter the public domain, rather than taking action upon those who committed the illegal activity itself, often the government seeks to penalise the journalists and whistleblowers who endeavour to raise the issue in the public discourse. It is evident with the recent raids upon journalists and the introduction of strong penalties for whistleblowers which way governments feel upon the issue.
Legislation to counter ‘fake news’ has also granted governments vast powers to censor and control the media, including the ability to demand the removal of material which does not fit the official narrative. When the government can control what can be seen as well as what news can be censored, that is the end of press freedom.
That is why the work and spirit of Wikileaks is fundamental to a free and open society. When information is unable to be censored, when the truth is impossible to suppress, that is when democratic governments can be held accountable for their actions, knowledge can be shared and a free society can flourish.
That is why the fate of Julian Assange is so important to us all. Assange is serving as the global precedent for the treatment of journalists and his acquittal on the charges would be a victory for free press globally.
It is ironic that the US has the audacity to hypocritically proclaim that the protections of freedom of speech and press under the First Amendment of the US Constitution do not apply to foreign journalists.
Fortunately there is substantial grassroots support for Assange and Wikileaks across Australia and the rest of the world. Even within Australian parliament there is a working group of MPs lead by the Honourable Andrew Wilkie seeking to restore Assange his freedom. Assange’s next extradition hearing is scheduled for the 24th of February. In response to this protests of solidarity are being held around the world. Julian’s actions are those of a true journalist and he must be defended. Exposing immorality is the highest morality.
(People For Assange, Sydney Protest – 24th Feb, 12pm Martin Place)
Free the Truth, Free Assange! Don’t shoot the messenger!