by Lotty Clare 

Fugitive, criminal or hero? Everyone seems to have an opinion on the sudden arrest of Julian Assange on April 11th, what the broader implications are, and what his fate should be.Assange was arrested and removed from the Ecuadorian embassy on Thursday, where he has been living since 2012 under diplomatic asylum. He faces extradition to the US where he has been indicted for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion on a classified government computer. He has also been arrested for breaking bail conditions by resisting extradition to Sweden where he was wanted to attend a hearing on sexual assault allegations.

These allegations are serious, and Assange should absolutely face the justice system in Sweden and allow a hearing to take place on this sexual assault case. It is crucial that this case is dealt with soon, because the statute of limitations on the rape case runs out in 2020. The investigation into molestation allegations had to be dropped in 2015 due to time running short. The women who made these allegations have waited long enough and deserve a fair trial.

This aspect of the Assange story is important, but the Swedish government were surprised to hear news of the arrest. This sudden change means prosecutors are now working rapidly to re-open the investigation and seek to extradite him. This leads to the conclusion that Assange breaking bail was not the reason for this arrest which was co-ordinated by the USA, UK, and Ecuador: it was the power of the USA’s indictment for conspiracy against the US government.

A whistle-blower who exposed heinous war crimes is being continually punished, whilst war criminals and corrupt greedy elites are still at the highest seats of power.

WikiLeaks, of which Assange is a co-founder, is an organisation that has published thousands of classified documents, most notably relating to thousands of documents leaked by Chelsea Manning about US war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Manning was sentenced for 35 years but was released on clemency after 7 by former president Obama. Currently, she is being detained for her refusal to testify in front of a grand jury. A whistle-blower who exposed heinous war crimes is being continually punished, whilst war criminals and corrupt greedy elites are still at the highest seats of power. The way Manning has been treated and is continuingly being treated is a great injustice, and the international community needs to support her and other whistle-blowers. For example, Reality Winner, who leaked classified NSA documents about Russian involvement in US elections, was interrogated in her own home, and is now facing 5 years in prison.

The USA continuously, through covert and overt means, tries to silence political dissidents and journalists all over the world to protect and uphold their global hegemonic power and influence of foreign countries. Under Obama’s administration, the Department of Justice (DOJ), investigated WikiLeaks and decided that Assange could not be prosecuted for disseminating classified information as it would threatened journalistic principles. Now, Assange is being indicted on the basis that he conspired with Chelsea Manning to (unsuccessfully) hack into a Pentagon computer. Whilst this is not a direct assault on journalistic rights, the indictment does include many routine things journalists do as part of Assange’s conspiracy crime. Furthermore, at the time of the DOJ’s investigation, the information about the current hacking charge was already known, and the charges against Assange are weak. This administrations DOJ mounting renewed attacks against journalists and whistle-blowers is in line with Trump’s war on ‘fake news’ aka the free press.

WikiLeaks has published many unredacted documents and there is an argument to be had about what information WikiLeaks should and shouldn’t publish regarding threat’s to countries’ national securities.  But WikiLeaks is a platform, and who should be able to say what information should and shouldn’t be published? Whose job is it to say who gains from leaked information being shared, and who loses? Assange and WikiLeaks’ journalistic responsibilities are an important discussion to be had, but this does not take away from the fact that Assange ‘encouraging’ Manning to give more information, is what so many journalists do with sources all the time.  Even if you detest Assange, prosecuting this is criminalising investigative journalism, which is crucial for keeping power in check.

The next steps in the progression of this story are uncertain. Some are calling for Assange to be extradited to Sweden, some for extradition to Australia where he is a citizen, and others are saying he should be imminently extradited to the USA. The legality is complex and depends on extradition treaties, in which the US has the upper hand. In terms of US indictment, it is naive to think that all justice systems are equal: it is likely that Assange with face an unfair trial in the US, with political pressure from both sides of the aisle to prosecute him, and that would set a dangerous precedent for journalists that are digging deeper than simply regurgitating narratives of the establishment.  

…the arrest of Assange on Thursday had everything to do with journalism.

Julian Assange has been accused of rape, and it is important that first he faces the Swedish justice system for these allegations. This needs to be recognised and not overlooked in media narratives. But the arrest of Assange on Thursday had everything to do with journalism. The exposure of US war crimes by WikiLeaks was an embarrassment for the government and this Trump administration that is waging a war on the free press cannot allow people like Assange and whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning to go unpunished. This is a high-profile example of the US’s extraterritorial powers, and a warning to other journalists that expose the dirty truths about those in power.

Find out here how to support Chelsea Manning and Reality Winner. 

Featured image credit: Espen Moe, Flickr

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