Dear Social Media Judges: Don’t Forget the Fundamentals of a Fair Trial

Julian Assange’s Australian lawyer and his EU advisor say the publisher should not be tried in social media and must be given a fair hearing in court. 

Artist’s depiction of social media. (Geralt via Wikimedia Commons)

Artist’s depiction of social media. (Geralt via Wikimedia Commons)


By Greg Barns and Lisanne Adam
Special to Consortium News

On Thursday this week WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will face a London court. This hearing relates to the request by the United States to extradite Assange to that country to face a computer hacking charge carrying a maximum penalty of five years. No doubt social media will be alive with commentary, support, abuse and everything in between concerning Assange’s plight.

When, after almost seven years, on April 11, 2019, Assange was arrested on Ecuadorian soil and taken into custody by U.K. police, social media exploded with the pro- and anti-Assange forces countering each other, and there has been a deluge of commentary about WikiLeaks and Assange the man. But much of what passes for comment about Assange on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook ignores some fundamental issues and facts about this extraordinary case. It is important to restate them in the hope, vain though it may be, that social media comment about Assange and WikiLeaks is at least well informed and deals with what is actually at stake in his case.

There is firstly the issue of Assange’s breaching bail in 2012 and seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. This was never a case of an individual seeking to flee from justice. To see Assange’s actions in this light is to ignore the fundamental right every person has to seek asylum if they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on political opinion. In his case the fear was Sweden would detain him and then hand him over to the United States. Sweden refused to assure him it would not.  We must also remember that Assange did not “hide” in the embassy, like a fugitive. He was detained because he had no choice — leave and be arrested was not a viable option.

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It is also essential that Assange’s right to a fair trial be respected. The opinions on his arrests, his alleged (mis-)conduct and his persona has essentially involved many on social media engaging in the classic “trial by media.”  The ongoing discussions about this on media platforms got divided in two camps: Assange is either a villain who deserves what he got or a hero who disclosed information that the public had a right to know.

Assange on way to Belmarsh Prison, April 11, 2019. (Twitter)

Assange on way to Belmarsh Prison, April 11, 2019. (Twitter)

Trial by Twitter

Assange’s case has, and is being decided upon by millions of social media judges around the world who are finding him guilty of hacking, espionage and sexual misconduct. And many of these same social media judges are deliberating on Assange’s extradition fight and the role of Sweden and the United States. Moreover, his trial on social media leads inevitably to the persecution by non-state actors in the form of harassment to WikiLeaks, Assange and to those close to him.

One issue is of particular concern. It is particularly troubling that many on social media are misleading others into thinking that there are legal proceedings afoot in Sweden today. This assertion is simply wrong. Assange has never been charged in Sweden, the investigation into the alleged sexual misconduct was closed, twice. There are only two live issues before the courts, leaving aside the sentencing for breach of bail. They are, the extradition request and the accompanying charges brought by the U.S. in respect of which there is a real possibility that once on U.S. soil, Assange will face an inhumane and degrading treatment, torture and an unfair trial. It is to be expected Assange will receive a similar treatment as his collaborator, Chelsea Manning, who is currently detained due to her unwillingness to testify to a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.

We simply say this to social media participants. Don’t judge Assange’s case on its presentation in the political arena, in the news or in the analysis of others on social media. Moreover, don’t let the procedure in Assange’s trial set a dangerous precedent for future, similar cases. The legal proceedings involving him must be decided by an impartial judge respecting and following the rule of law.  His case has to be judged fairly on the merits and on actual evidence rather than on conspiracy theories or political games. The right to a fair trial entails the right to defend oneself, access to a lawyer, a hearing with an impartial judge and the respect to all the procedural requirements to minimize the risk on other potential breaches of fundamental rights. There is no exception to these fundamental rights in Assange’s case. Respecting Assange’s fair trial and the rule of law, will benefit justice.

Greg Barns is a barrister in Australia and Australian legal adviser to Julian Assange. Lisanne Adam is a consultant on EU human rights law based in Melbourne, Australia.

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18 comments for “Dear Social Media Judges: Don’t Forget the Fundamentals of a Fair Trial

  1. Bob
    May 5, 2019 at 13:27

    Social media? If you think the Orwellian tech giants at big social aren’t doing everything to help insure Assange is not heard, like they do with political speech on the right, you area fool.

  2. May 1, 2019 at 19:20

    Fat chance if an impartial judge in this case. The two judges so far sound like some of the Establishment monstrosities out of that Brit drama Judge John Deed. Hes toast.

  3. Doc Smith
    May 1, 2019 at 18:22

    Fair trial will never happen as all the extenuating evidence is a matter of “national security,” even if everyone already knows. Who would have thought, an Australian journalist and publisher, would be rendered to America for his Kangaroo Court.

  4. Larry
    May 1, 2019 at 12:34

    The real threat to Assange is the government. What retards on social media say is mostly irrelevant.

  5. Robert Mayer
    May 1, 2019 at 08:44

    1. If inet reportage is comparable2 social media then CN itself is guilty of “holding trial” as Only site presenting issue: Danger2 All Media Reporting of Wikileak overreact by U$ “justice” sys.
    2. Am i remembering right that last SCOTUS add rape accusee?
    3. Can Any Accused xpect Fair Treatment at the hands of politicised U$ “justice” sys?!!!

  6. Linda Lewis
    May 1, 2019 at 01:40

    A 1950s murder case in the United States demonstrated that pre-trial publicity can interfere egregiously with justice. In Sheppard v. Maxwell (19660, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a retrial of Dr. Sam Sheppard, previously was convicted of murdering his wife, due to a carnival atmosphere, intermingling of reporters and jurors at the courthouse, and a flood of prejudicial publicity surrounding the trial. At the second trial, jurors found Sheppard not guilty. See:

    In their opinion, the justices criticized court’s failure “to control the release of leads, information, and gossip to the press by police officers, witnesses, and the counsel for both sides.” “Much of the information thus disclosed was inaccurate, leading to groundless rumors and confusion,” the justices wrote. To the extent that the court could control prejudicial publicity, it should.

    Julian Assange also has been the center of a media circus, the subject of inaccurate, prejudicial information not only promoted in social media but as well by representatives of the U.K. and U.S. governments. Both governments have the means to control the actions of their judges, law enforcement personnel and executive branch agencies, yet routinely fail to do so with regard to indicted whistleblower like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and also in the case of Julian Assange.

  7. Garrett Connelly
    April 30, 2019 at 19:11

    The fairy tale of our youth.

    Remember the naked king story? The idiot was conned into professing his invisible attire as the grandest most grande. Le elegánte beyond compare.

    There have been movies made about this sort of thing. Invasion of the Body Snatchers?

  8. Gerry L Forbes
    April 30, 2019 at 19:06

    I believe the Home Secretary has the final say on whether extraditions can go ahead so I expect the trial judge to dump it in the Home Secretary”s lap as expeditiously as possible. Lower court judges don’t like hot potato cases and just want to pass them along. It’s like the old Life cereal commercial:

    “I’ m not trying it, you try it!”
    “I’m not trying it.”
    “Let Mikey try it; he hates everything!”

  9. Andrew Nichols
    April 30, 2019 at 17:47

    an impartial judge

    Fat chance of that going by the last guy.

  10. April 30, 2019 at 17:28

    The author says, “The right to a fair trial entails the right to defend oneself, access to a lawyer, a hearing with an impartial judge … ” Yes, Assange deserves a fair trial, and indeed a complete pardon. Unfortunately in the US today—apparently since 9/11 according to several lawyers I’ve talked to—the “right to defend oneself” no longer exists, and rarely is there “an impartial judge.” Some 97% of cases are handled through coerced “plea bargains” whereby the accused pleads guilty in exchange for a “reduced sentence” regardless of innocence or guilt. I interviewed four lawyers, and none were willing to take a case to trial, not because they had no regard for justice, but because they believed going to trial was futile and would backfire, resulting in a longer sentence.

    The US “justice” system today resembles the fake courts after the Fench Revolution as depicted in Tale of Two Cities, and is getting more corrupt all the time. I have been present as an observer at such courts. Look for example at the case of visiting Russian citizen Maria Butina, who was sentenced last week to 18 months after a guilty plea bargain, despite that her “crime” of not registering as a “foreign agent” has never been previously so enforced. I believe this totalitarian trend is partly fueled by the corporations who want to fill their privatized prisons. A justice system, like a monetary system, is a form of infrastructure that should never be privatized. But in the cases of Butina, Assange and Manning, the motives are mainly political.

    This political oppression obviously transcends the “deep state” factions of the US government, as it extends into the entire sphere of Western influence. Witness for example Assange’s treatment in the UK, where he was illegally arrested on foreign soil, then detained without access to a lawyer or medical care, as well as the political oppression now occuring in France as evidenced by the Yellow Vest movement. Some attribute the current Western crackdown, which also manifests as internet censorship, to the genocidal aims of the global elite, who are potentially identified as the “Committee of 300” with names listed at the following link:

  11. mike k
    April 30, 2019 at 17:08

    The author seems to have a naïve faith in the operations of the “law’. Those fantasies will be irrelevant to what happens in a US kangaroo court.

    • DW Bartoo
      April 30, 2019 at 21:01

      mike k, Julian Assange’s Australian lawyer, Greg Barns, and his EU advisor are the authors of this article.

      It is to be hoped that their expectation and hope of a “fair trial” is to be realized.

      Frankly, I share your doubts of any such process occurring in the U$, and/or in the U.K. as the prejudice of the first Brit judge was plainly evident in his statement that Assange was/is narcissistic.

      It has been my experience that many lawyers are invested in the belief that there is still a functioning rule of law, and I sincerely hope that is so. However, my observation of legal proceedings over a number of decades has convinced me that we confront, for most intents and purposes, a legal system perverted into an empty “form of the law” the purpose of which is, deliberately and cynically, to destroy the rule of law.

      That Barns and Adam ask social media (and I assume they are speaking to all aspects of that media, including many sites and platforms beyond the biggies) to refrain from lynch mob character assassination of Assange may be equally naive. Yet it is possible that sites more amenable to reason and conscience may make extra efforts to urge restraint and deflate areas of deceit such as the fact that there never were charges of any kind leveled against Assange by Sweden, as Cortium News has already done.

      In general conversation therefore some burden falls upon all of us to dare speak to the truth of things however daunting may seem that task, for the “court of public opinion” is being subverted by fallacious argument beyond even the reach of mainstream traditional and servants of power, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

      In the U$, a narrative of criminality has been assiduously constructed around Assange to hide and, at the same time, denigrate what he did in exposing war crimes and other governmental and elite wrongdoing.

      The public, in the U$ and U.K. has been led to believe that it is a greater crime to expose crimes and wrongdoing than the crimes and deceits themselves. In that sense the harm goes beyond Assange, Manning, Snowden, and others and is nothing less than a further, deliberate effort to frighten the people away from insisting upon knowing, as is their right and responsibility, what is done in their name.

      That is also a crime against the people themselves and, if successful, turns the gullibility and fears of the many upon civil society, upon genuine democracy, and upon moral principle.

    April 30, 2019 at 16:47

    Assange told the truth about US War Crimes—–The USGOVT. War Criminals that committed the crimes should be on trial —not Assange– the Journalist–who did his job and reported the crimes —you don`t have to be SHERLOCK HOLMES to know who the murderers are.—

  13. Sally Snyder
    April 30, 2019 at 14:55

    As shown in this article, one key social media platforms is largely controlled by Washington insiders:

    The Assange narrative promoted by social media is largely that of Washington.

    • DW Bartoo
      April 30, 2019 at 20:28

      Your concerns about Facebook are very reasonable and realistic, Sally Snyder.

      However, many sites lend Facebook what amounts to a continuing credibility by placing some portion or all of their comment threads on Facebook.

      A number of these sites are among those which I consider to be among the best sources of consistent and vital information, presenting authors and viewpoints, including in the comment section, that are well-informed and vitally important.

      The perspective the site owners offer for using Facebook, beyond the issues of the expense and the operational difficulty of hosting comment sections themselves, is that Facebook permits them access to a much larger audience.

      Since a fair number of these sites are among those singled out, early in the “Russia did it” false narrative, as being either Russian dupes or sympathizes, it might be that a time will come when Facebook will no longer permit their presence.

      At that point, it is to be hoped that other options may be available to those sites.

      It is to Consortium News’ credit, and wisdom, that they still have comment threads at their own site, along with their Facebook threads.

      • Robyn
        May 1, 2019 at 00:44

        Agreed, DW Bartoo. I am constantly surprised and disappointed by news and analysis sites which, even though they are against the Mass Surveillance Industry and their imperialist/censorship agenda, continue to use those very agencies for reader comment. Of lesser importance, perhaps, are the podcasts whose feedback channels and group memberships are confined to Facebook and Twitter. Control the media and you control the world.

        I agree that the chances of a fair trail for Julian Assange are low and I’m surprised at Barns and Adam taking due process as their starting point. It hasn’t happened for other whistle-blowers, and TPTB know that they are unstoppable.

        • Litchfield
          May 1, 2019 at 11:50

          Robyn and DW Bartoo:
          I totally agree and have often posted this comment:
          Why continue to instruct readers to “follow us on Facebook” when FB is a known entity and it is a negative one.
          Just stop doing that.
          It actually lowers my respect for any site that keeps telling readers to follow them on FB and then also asks for donations.
          No way. First get off the FB drug, and then I will think about making a donation.

          • Jimmy G
            May 1, 2019 at 16:14

            Amen. FB is a KoolAid stand, and a surveillance system. Take your pick.

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