The Prosecution of Julian Assange Calls for Public Defense of Free Speech

If the U.S. succeeds in extraditing the WikiLeaks publisher, it could lead to the possible execution of an innocent man and the death of a free press as a guardian of democracy, writes Nozomi Hayase.

By Nozomi Hayase
Common Dreams

On Saturday, The New York Times published a front-page article on the leaked files that exposed the Chinese government’s coordinated crackdown on ethnic minorities. In covering the story, the newspaper noted that although the source and the methods through which documents were gathered are unclear, the disclosure of 403 pages of internal documents is one of the most significant leaks in decades shedding light on the internal working of China’s ruling Communist Party.

This front-page report, that captured the attention of the American public on the weekend shows the hypocrisy of Western media. While the Times applauds leaks that were reportedly made by an anonymous member of the Chinese political establishment, when it comes to the wrongdoing of their own government, rarely do they show the same exuberance and courage in publishing the information.

This hypocrisy is most pronounced in their attitude toward the U.S. government’s aggressive prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange concerning the publication of classified information. Assange has been kept in complete isolation inside London’s Belmarsh prison for exposing the crimes of the U.S. government. He has been charged with 17 counts of espionage for publishing the government’s documents revealing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and torture in Guantanamo Bay.

The established media with their allegiance to the state has been failing to inform the public about the threat to civil liberties emanating from this country. The U.S. government has been waging a war against the First Amendment. Assange has become a political prisoner of this war. In the era of “hope and change,” he and his organization became a target of Obama’s crackdown on whistleblowers, which now has escalated into Trump administration’s assaults on the press freedom.

Obstruction of Justice

Last week, Swedish prosecutors dropped their preliminary investigation of Assange, which had railroaded him into a multi-year long arbitrary detention in the Ecuadorian embassy, as indicated by the UN ruling. For the last seven years prior to his imprisonment in the London’s maximum security prison, Assange has been unlawfully held by the U.K. government without charge, being denied access to medical treatment, fresh air, sunlight and adequate space to exercise.

The Western nations’ coordinated attack on Assange was recognized by a UN expert. In May 2019, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer raised the concern that Assange has been subjected to psychological torture. Then, he stated how:

“In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.”

The U.S. government’s efforts to break Assange have extended into their egregious violation of his privacy. It has come to light that the CIA has been directly involved in spying on Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where the WikiLeaks founder had lived since he obtained political asylum in 2012.

Stefania Maurizi.

The videos and audio recordings accessed by the Italian media outlet La Repubblica revealed that the Spanish company, UC Global, carried out extraordinary surveillance on Assange, his lawyers, doctors, journalists and whoever visited the embassy for the last seven years. Journalist Stefania Maurizi, who was also targeted by this surveillance, indicated the strong possibility that this extreme invasion of privacy was conducted on behalf of the U.S. government and that the statements of former employees and internal emails along with type of information gathered provide evidence.

All the while, the obstruction of justice continues with a show trial in U.K. Last week Assange was back in Westminster Magistrates Court, where the Judge Vanessa Baraitser had denied his legal team’s request for a trial extension a month earlier. This time, Judge Baraitser once again dismissed concerns brought by Gareth Peirce, representing Assange, about her client not being able to adequately prepare for his “very challenging case” as the computer he had been given was not suitable.

High Crimes of the West

While Assange awaits U.S. extradition inside the maximum-security prison being held alongside the most dangerous criminals in the country, the dramatic change in his appearance was noted by his close circle of friends. Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan expressed dismay at his friend’s severe loss of weight and physical deterioration. On Nov. 1, Nils Melzer reiterated his concern, alerting that Assange’s life is at risk. Most recently, Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer who has been defending Assange since 2010, told an audience at the PEN International Sydney conference about significant decline in the journalist’s health.

Wall portrait of Julian Assange. (thierry ehrmann/flickr)

In the face of this outrageous incarceration, silence prevails among many media professionals. If media stillness is broken, it is only to be filled with an echo chamber of smearing. We live in an illusion of democracy, where we are surrounded by Orwellian doublespeak that distorts truth. Under the guise of free press, news headlines and sound bites turn the reality upside down.

Those who dare to speak out against torture and abuse of power get condemned and punished, whereas torturers and perpetrators of violence are praised and rewarded. Truthtellers are silenced and persecuted, while war criminals walk free. WikiLeaks alleged source whistleblower Chelsea Manning remains incarcerated, being fined $1,000 a day for refusing to cooperate at a grand jury targeting the publisher.

When injustice has been enacted behind a facade of democracy, WikiLeaks has stepped forward to dismantle the deception by enabling a true function of free press. It is the tenacity of Assange together with courage and conscience of whistleblowers that informed the public truth about the U.S. wars in the Middle East. The released government documents, which they risked their lives to bring to light, cut through the government’ propaganda that obfuscates and conceals the atrocities and oppression carried out in our name.

The brutal prosecution of Julian Assange adds to the high crime of the West. It is an offense against the enlightenment ideas that are a foundation of civilization. Our failure to recognize and correct the wrongdoing of our governments will make us all complicit in their crimes. If the U.S. government succeeds in extraditing Assange to the U.S. where he faces 175 years in prison without any chance of fair trial, it not only leads to possible execution of an innocent man, but also the death of a free press as a guardian of democracy.

Assange’s extradition battle must become a defining moment of our fierce defense of free speech. Only through the courage of ordinary people who speak truth, and wrestle with the beast devouring ideals that are kindled in our heart, can we redeem our innocence and save our democracy.

Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is an essayist and author of WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening.” Follow her on Twitter: @nozomimagine

This article is from Common Dreams.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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16 comments for “The Prosecution of Julian Assange Calls for Public Defense of Free Speech

  1. November 29, 2019 at 20:59

    Thank you, to this author and to all those who have spoken up in defense of Assange and all truth-tellers, and the Freedom of Speech. I am afraid that words are not enough … after all these multitudes of pages and essays and speeches, The People of the World are still not listened to, and Assange’s Rights as a Citizen of Australia, Patient and Prisoner in England, and rationale for extradition/US First Amendment Rights, are all being trampled on. These brave souls deserve wide latitude in light of a skewed document classification system and outdated Espionage Act, both of which are used to entrap, deter, and criminally charge whistleblowers and truth-tellers and undermine Our First Amendment.

    Thanks to those in London for your diligence and vigilant protests. We must ALL protest this and other horrors — see Join me in Miami, or wherever you are, before it is too late. LET ASSANGE GO HOME. He has been isolated for years, compensating for any wrongs the US feels he has committed. Trump said it was the Pentagon that wanted him here .. Well, Sir, you are the President, and The People have spoken loudly and clearly — we want NO MORE time spent on Assange. We have far more important concerns.

    Findings at Nuremberg led directly to:
    United Nations Genocide Convention (1948)
    Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
    Geneva Convention on the Laws and Customs of War (1949)

  2. Mike H.
    November 27, 2019 at 09:44

    If Julian Assange were to die whilst in prison, who would be charged for his murderer? Or would there be a case to charge all those who have contributed to his present poor state of health for conspiracy to murder?

  3. Truth first
    November 26, 2019 at 22:05

    Since WW2 America has overthrown more democracies, killed more innocent people, started more wars based on bullshit, exported more deadly equipment, tortured with impunity, has 800 military bases around the world and spends more on weapons an any other country. They don’t care about about honesty, freedom or democracy unless you play ball their way. Revealing American crimes is considered treasonous because they actually think, after all their carnage, that they are the good guys.

  4. Andrew F
    November 26, 2019 at 21:29

    On Episode 2 of CNLive! on 20th July, Kristinn Hrafnsson confirmed to Joe Lauria that Wikileaks would be suing the Guardian over the Manafort/Assange libel and that the law suit would be filed by the deadline on 27th November 2019.

    Searching for any confirmation this has happened but can’t see a thing. Total silence from all the sources you would expect to cover it. The fundraising page is still active at “Go Fund Me” and they reached their goal in January of this year.

    Anyone got anything?

    • November 28, 2019 at 19:09

      I would like to make sure that the #SDG16 action group is made aware of this lawsuit. Now that the GUARDIAN has made a public statement opposing Julian’s extradition, its time for that publication to account for its false reporting.

  5. ML
    November 26, 2019 at 09:29

    Nozomi, so good to see you here publishing at CN! Your recent interview on CN LIVE was superb. When you said, “And we know this is deeply wrong; we can see that it is,” I hope it really resonated with anyone who saw your interview. Because any of us with a heart, with empathy, with a conscience, and with a curious and open mind can see Julian’s treatment for what it is- deeply wrong. I just sent another email to my senators this week asking them to stand up for Julian and speak out against his extradition. No vote for them if they do not! We all must keep speaking out for Julian, for justice, for our cherished free speech rights. Thank you so very much for all you have done to bring to light the psychological underpinnings of his torture. I’d love to read a book on Wikileaks if you are planning to write one.

  6. T.J
    November 26, 2019 at 04:00

    There is an irony in the fact that we use our vote to elect people to an institution that is supposed to represent our interests and this institution then behaves in a manner diametrically opposite to the purpose for which it was intended. When the likes of Julian Assange shines light on such behaviour, he is pilloried and demonised for acting in our best interests. This is how our so-called democracy apparently works. In such circumstances the plight of Julian Assange is of monumental significance and all who have an interest in justice should act now and support him. It seems extraordinary that governments are prepared to go to such lengths and in the process flout both their own laws and international laws, acting against one man because he has exposed their lies and crimes. But their intentions are clear, by making an example of Julian, they are sending a message to all of us. The message is simple, if you expose our transgressions you will suffer the same fate as Julian Assange. The last vestiges of democracy will die if they succeed and then we will all be unfree. By silencing our means of exposing them, they will silence everyone.

  7. Eugenie Basile
    November 26, 2019 at 03:19

    Freedom of speech, democracy, privacy, liberty, justice…. sounds all a bit dystopian. These are human fantasies that have never existed in the real world.
    That said I hope Assange still has a trump card up his sleeve that will kick some conscience into this world.

  8. jmg
    November 25, 2019 at 19:47

    “WikiLeaks is a media organization which publishes and comments upon censored or restricted official materials involving war, surveillance or corruption, which are leaked to it in a variety of different circumstances. . . . So far as the evidence before us goes, Mr. Assange is the only media publisher and free speech advocate in the Western world who is in a situation that a UN body has characterized as arbitrary detention. It is a matter of public controversy how this situation should be understood. The circumstances of his case arguably raise issues about human rights and Press freedom, which are the subject of legitimate public debate. Such debate may even help to resolve them, which would itself be a public benefit.”
    — Judge Andrew Bartlett QC, December 12, 2017

    “The Assange arrest is scandalous. . . . The efforts to silence a journalist who was producing materials that people in power didn’t want the rascal multitude to know about . . . That’s basically what happened. WikiLeaks was producing things that people ought to know about those in power. People in power don’t like that, so therefore we have to silence it.”
    — Noam Chomsky, April 11, 2019

    “Mr. Assange’s arrest and possible extradition to face charges related to an alleged conspiracy with Chelsea Manning to publish documents that exposed corruption and criminality by numerous private businesses, tyrants, and countries worldwide is ultimately an attack on press freedom. The arrest sets a dangerous precedent that could extend to other media organizations such as The New York Times . . .”
    — Center for Constitutional Rights, April 11, 2019

    “The indictment and the Justice Department’s press release treat everyday journalistic practices as part of a criminal conspiracy. . . . activities that are not just lawful but essential to press freedom—activities like cultivating sources, protecting sources’ identities, and communicating with sources securely.”
    — Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, April 11, 2019

    “Julian Assange’s indictment aims at the heart of the First Amendment.”
    — The New York Times Editorial Board, May 23, 2019

    “These unprecedented charges against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are the most significant and terrifying threat to the First Amendment in the 21st century.”
    — Freedom of the Press Foundation, May 23, 2019

    “For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information. . . . It establishes a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets.”
    — American Civil Liberties Union, May 23, 2019

    “A stunning and unprecedented assault on press freedom.”
    — Human Rights Watch, May 24, 2019

    “The new Assange indictment endangers journalism.”
    — Bloomberg News, May 24, 2019

    “The indictment marks the first time the U.S. government has prosecuted a publisher under the Espionage Act. . . . It is a reckless assault on the First Amendment that crosses a line no previous administration has been willing to cross, and threatens to criminalize the most basic practices of reporting.”
    — Committee to Protect Journalists, May 24, 2019

    “The First Amendment covers everyone. . . . The First Amendment also covers non-citizens such as Assange.”
    — Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, May 30, 2019

    “Now, the Trump DOJ has indicted . . . in direct defiance of a Supreme Court decision that ruled against this during the Nixon years. . . . In a landmark decision, known as the Pentagon Papers case, the Supreme Court ruled that a publisher may reveal whatever materials come into the publisher’s possession, no matter how they got there, so long as the materials are themselves material to the public interest.”
    — Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, May 30, 2019

    “This is the gravest assault on press freedom in my lifetime.”
    — Chris Hedges, award-winning journalist, Jun 17, 2019

    “And thus, a legal precedent is being set, through the backdoor of our own complacency, which in the future can and will be applied just as well to disclosures by The Guardian, the New York Times and ABC News.”
    — Nils Melzer, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, June 26, 2019

    “. . . the First Amendment interest in the publication of matters of the highest public concern. . . . This type of information is plainly of the type entitled to the strongest protection that the First Amendment offers. . . . the documents were of public importance. Therefore, the First Amendment protects the publication . . .”
    — Judge John G. Koeltl, July 30, 2019

    “It’s not just me. It’s much wider. It’s all of us. It’s all journalists, and all publishers who do their job who are in danger.”
    — Julian Assange, investigative journalist and publisher, August 2019

    “This is not about me.
    This is about you!”
    — Julian Assange, November 5, 2019

    • November 28, 2019 at 19:19

      It is significant that the UN Rapporteur has found this arbitrary persecution to be completely unjustified. What the US and Britain are doing is showing brazen contempt for the principle enunciated at the Nuremberg Trials that it is a soldier’s duty to make public the evidence of state sponsored war atrocities.

      The anti-corruption Goal that seeks to decorrupt dysfunctional institutional systems so that healthy institutions may advance equal justice for all, #SDG16, ought to be making the case that the US and Britain should suspend their involvement with the UN until they are able to summon at least a minimal level of affinity with the cardinal principles of liberty as protected by rule of law.

  9. Tim Jones
    November 25, 2019 at 18:52

    I always think that Wikileaks will release more information if something bad happens to Assange. Have the authorities thought about this? Could important figures in Britain, USA and other key people? My hope is that he is given what all deserve, access to healthcare and a fair trial.

  10. Robert
    November 25, 2019 at 16:43

    Commenters on Breitbart News reporting today on Julian Assange overwhelmingly support his immediate release and that charges against him be dropped. In contrast, Democrats and MSM propaganda outlets question his journalism and support his incarceration. If Democrats really cared about their voters and a free press, they would drop their sham impeachment circus and (if they worked with one voice on this issue) force Trump to withdraw charges or pardon Assange. (They control the House and could easily pass a resolution to this effect.) This one action would at least earn them voter respect across the political spectrum to which they aspire.

    • November 26, 2019 at 02:15

      If commenters on the right-wing Breitbart are for the release of Julian Assange perhaps they ought to take the Trump Administration to Task. They can encourage the bellicose and diabolical Pompeo, who characterized WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile intelligence agency, to take a look at himself in the mirror. Also, it’s not only Democrats who think Julian should be extradited. Some of the most vile and deranged diatribe against Julian has come from Republicans such as the white supremacist Steve King, the racist and sinister former AG Sessions, and the bigoted and wicked Mike Pence. Trump in a 2010 interview lashed out at WikiLeaks and called for Julian to be given the death penalty. Trump, a crook, liar and a racist passing moral judgment is just despicable.

      It doesn’t make sense that you sidestepped any mention of Republicans when clearly it is a Republican Administration that has elected to prosecute Julian. Even the Obama Admin notorious for prosecuting whistleblowers, demurred at prosecuting Julian because of the “New York Times Problem”. Trump came into office and his AG didn’t miss a beat and dredges the dormant case out and aggressively pursues Julian using horrendous, corrupt and reprehensible tactics. FYI, the persecution of Julian Assange is a bi-partisan enterprise. You have the corrupt and hypocrite Hilary Clinton blaming Julian for her ignominious loss to Trump in 2016.

      Again, all the horrendous and draconian conditions of Julian’s imprisonment should be blamed on Trump and his Administation.

    • Josep
      November 27, 2019 at 04:34

      I wonder if said commentators at Breitbart are supporting Assange’s release because (A) they genuinely believe in freedom of speech or (B) the Democrats and MSM are crapping on him.

      Assange’s “crime” was exposing American war crimes in the Middle East. What’s their opinion on that? I could be remembering this wrong, but anecdotally they seem to get angry with whatever makes the USA look like a villain, whether it be the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the overthrowing of Saddam Hussein for selling oil in euros instead of dollars. BB also seem to support Israel slavishly.

  11. Andrew F
    November 25, 2019 at 16:25

    Expect a big announcement today!

    27 November 2018 was the date of the Guardian’s infamous Assange/Manafort smear job.

    Wikileaks raised the funds to sue the Guardian (over $50,000), and under UK libel law they have 1 year to start the case.

    27 November 2019 should be a big day for accountability and will show that we are still fighting for truth and justice for Assange and that the establishment media can’t lie and smear with impunity!

  12. November 25, 2019 at 14:46

    Great article. I only disagree that we should “redeem our innocence” and “save our democracy.” We should always be aware that our “democracy” is an illusion fed to us by the ruling class to keep us from paying attention to what is going on behind the curtain. We are not, nor should we be innocent.

Comments are closed.