Britain  •  USA

Julian Assange: criminalising journalism

16 October 2023

By Alex Rutherford

Julian Assange has moved perilously close to being extradited to the United States, where he faces 175 years in prison for the ‘crime’ of publishing secret documents exposing the crimes of US imperialism and its allies.

In June, the high court rejected his appeal against the extradition order signed by Priti Patel last year. His defense argues that the UK-US extradition treaty forbids extradition for political offences, and that he is being prosecuted for protected speech.

The United States’ determination to make an example of Assange, who is not a US citizen, obliged the Wikileaks publisher to spend seven years in Ecuador’s UK embassy, followed by four years banged up in Belmarsh awaiting extradition.

Assange is charged in the US with 18 offences under the Espionage Act, notably publishing the documents leaked by former soldier Chelsea Manning, whose 30 year sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017. The leaks exposed, among other things, the torture in Guantanamo Bay, the Bush and Obama administration’s routine use of assassination by drone, and, embarrassingly for its allies, revealed the way in which the world’s ‘democratic’ rulers talk about democratic and popular movements when they think no one is listening.

The attack on Assange is an attack on all those who seek to expose the truth behind the propaganda machine of US imperialism. In the final analysis, the persecution of Assange, and other whistleblowers before him, is proof that the democratic powers’ cherished right to free speech has definite limits. This exposes the hypocrisy of those imperialist states which claim to be democratic – locking up journalists is something more generally associated with authoritarian regimes such as Putin’s Russia than a supposedly democratic state like the US.

The fate of Julian Assange is a reminder to all who say our society is a free, liberal democracy, that in fact this only applies up to the point that speech begins to threaten the interests of the ruling class. If they can do it to him, they can do it to all of us. This battle is at the fault line of a sharp contradiction between the supposed ‘values’ of society and the methods which it uses to establish control over the population.

A second appeal against the extradition had been scheduled for September, but the date was subsequently taken out without warning, and a new date has not yet been announced. If that is defeated, his only remaining legal route will be appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

All democrats should oppose the extradition of Assange and demand his immediate release from custody, and an end to the UK government and courts doing the US’ dirty work. We must be ready to mobilise our forces the moment a new date is announced for the appeal, and do everything we can to block the extradition. A vigil has been organised in Manchester for Day X, whenever this is eventually announced. Similar protests will be taking place in London and throughout the country. A toolkit has been created by the Assange campaign for activists wishing to fight against the extradition, which can be found by here.

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