Whether you love or loathe Julian Assange, the decision by a British court to allow a U.S. extradition process is morally repugnant and wrong on so many levels. Assange will now have approximately four weeks to wait and see whether the British government itself signs off on his extradition or not – at which point he can decide to appeal.
But the treatment of the Australian publisher and his fate drives home a fundamental point about how democracy and freedom of speech barely make it to the list of priorities in western countries when governments hijack a political cause for their own tawdry agendas.
Assange’s case is entirely political which has made his a commodity of sorts as his alleged crimes have dehumanised him, helped by western media who have hardly supported his claims to be exercising his rights to freedom of speech. Political from a local perspective for both Biden and Boris who both have a worrying loathing of the press and, certainly in the case of the British prime minister, would dearly like to display a show of strength towards the fourth estate which he fears could play a role in his demise. But also on an international level, both the UK and U.S. want to use the case to score points with Russia as the U.S. always claimed from as early as 2010 that Wikileaks was some sort of foreign intelligence website which was supported by Moscow. It is because of this notion, because Assange has links with Russia, that the case against Assange is so much bigger and symbolic than it really needs to be. Incumbent U.S. presidents cannot be seen to let down their own military in the face of what they perceived to be an attack from Russia. Chelsea Manning was assisted by Assange in 2010 to download a trove of controversial information from a U.S. defence website and it is this act which the U.S. wants to use as the basis of a case against Assange which would lead probably to him spending the rest of his life in a U.S. jail if he were extradited.
The argument though, which is that he was operating as a journalist and exercising his right to freedom of speech, has very little gravitas with the U.S. mindset, nor with the British one. Both the U.S. and the UK want to use Assange to create a new example towards journalists who think about digging too deep in their work exposing the dirty work that both America and Britain get up to when they go to war in places like Iraq or Afghanistan. The message is very clear: think before you act, as you could end up like Assange.
And so politics, which has dominated the case even being behind what was obviously a CIA honey trap operation in Sweden to net Assange in 2010, is still the central focus. Or rather lack of it. It is a new level of cowardice in our political systems which allows the U.S. to go ahead with its plans to kill Assange in a U.S. prison and the same level of weakness from Boris Johnson which will probably allow it. It is the lack of verve from our leaders, even in the Australian government, which has allowed Assange to be dehumanised while the UK and Australia sign trade deals and Assange is airbrushed out of the talks almost like he doesn’t exist.
And yet it is politics, ironically, which can block it as well.
These same politicians are weak and are terrified of a political backlash by the masses. They fear this more than anything. The 20th of April was a sad day for British justice, British journalism and for anyone who still believes that Britain is still a democracy which once was a beacon to the rest of the world when it came of freedom of speech. There are only two strands of hope now for Assange to cling on to. One is that more people take to social media and to the streets and lobby against Boris Johnson, to get him to stand up to America and set a precedent between the two countries and this farcical ‘special relationship’ and to counter the demands from the U.S. to extradite Assange based on his health and his right to exercise freedom of speech.
The second chance is that Biden does something stupid with the UK, in the midst of trade talks – both the U.S. and Britain are negotiating a trade deal – and this could be the basis for Boris to hold Assange in the UK at least until a new president takes office in 2024. We should never forget that democracies like the U.S. and the UK these days are mired by their own self-serving leaders who like to shy away from decisions and when tested as to how much they correspond their actions about freedom of speech from their words, always let us down. Assange is now a hostage to be traded and the saying about “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” would apply, if only we weren’t talking about Biden and Boris.
This article originally appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation online journal.
Martin Jay is an award-winning British journalist based in Morocco where he is a correspondent for The Daily Mail (UK) who previously reported on the Arab Spring there for CNN, as well as Euronews. From 2012 to 2019 he was based in Beirut where he worked for a number of international media titles including BBC, Al Jazeera, RT, DW, as well as reporting on a freelance basis for the UK’s Daily Mail, The Sunday Times plus TRT World. His career has led him to work in almost 50 countries in Africa, The Middle East and Europe for a host of major media titles. He has lived and worked in Morocco, Belgium, Kenya and Lebanon.