Belmarsh tribunal urges Biden to drop Assange charges

Dec 14, 2023
Digital Artwork of Julian Assange.

Another year passes and Australian citizen, journalist and publisher, Julian Assange is still detained in the UK as the US continues its pursuit of extradition for publishing material over a decade ago which revealed war crimes committed by the US and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US’ blatant attack on freedom of speech and freedom of the press which the Assange case represents allows for other nations such as China and Russia which are routinely criticised by Washington and other democratic nations like Australia for their jailing of journalists, to label it a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The US and its allies attacks on China, Russia and other authoritarian regimes for their jailing of journalists are blunted given the refusal of the Biden Administration to end its pursuit of Assange who faces over 170 years in prison if convicted by an Eastern Virginia court of offences under the 1917 espionage legislation. In short, by continuing to pursue Assange the US and its allies have provided ammunition for other nations to make accusations of hypocrisy.

Washington and its allies like Australia have rounded on China over the detention in recent years of journalists such as Cheng Lei who was detained for 3 years before being released and returned to Australia in October.

Here’s Chen Weihua in China Daily on June 30 this year; “It is shameful that most Western mainstream media outlets and Western politicians have not shown the guts to support Assange despite their hypocritical rhetoric on press freedom.” Nine days earlier Chinese news agency  Xinhua reported remarks of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Wang Wenbin; “Assange’s case is like a mirror, which reflects the hypocrisy of the U.S. and the UK on ‘press freedom’,” Wang said.

The Xinhua report continued that Wang “pointed out that people are free to expose other countries but subject to severe punishment if they expose the U.S., the UK and their allies; people are treated either as heroes if they expose other countries or as criminals if they expose the U.S., the UK and their partners; in other countries, holding the media accountable amounts to “political persecution,” while in the U.S. and the UK, clamping down on media is to “act in accordance with the law.”

And what of the Wall Street journalist Evan Gershkovich who was arrested by Russian authorities in March of this year and who remains in detention? Last month after Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy condemned the detention of Gershkovich, stating that “journalists must be allowed to practice their profession freely and deserve protection” a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Borrell that he should defend Assange.

Who can blame Russia and China for using the Assange case to push back against criticism of their own attacks on freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

Some will say the circumstances are different. That Cheng Lei, Gershkovich and others detained in China, Russia and other authoritarian regimes are the victims of arbitrary and capricious regimes with no respect for the rule of law.

Such an argument is specious to say the least. Assange has been detained now for over a decade for telling the truth about war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. He is the subject of a unique and dangerous attempt by the US to use a domestic law in an extra-territorial setting. And he faces torture and cruel and unusual punishment if he is shipped to the US. He has been the subject of a CIA plan to murder him and unlawful spying on him and his visitors when he was in the Ecuadorean Embassy from 2012 to 2019.

Speaking of extra-territorial reach, that is, seeking to prosecute a person who is not in the jurisdiction, the US is doing exactly what Washington, Canberra and other western countries have condemned China for doing when it introduced a National Security Law in Hong Kong in 2020.

The breath taking hypocrisy of the US on this issue is manifest in this statement from the State Department in July of this year dealing with Hong Kong’s announcing a bounty for information about a number of pro democracy activists who are no longer in Hong Kong. “The United States condemns the Hong Kong Police Force’s issuance of an international bounty for information leading to the arrest of eight pro-democracy activists who no longer live in Hong Kong. The extraterritorial application of the Beijing-imposed National Security Law is a dangerous precedent that threatens the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people all over the world,” the State Department statement read. And of course, thrown in for good measure the usual platitudes that the US support’s “individuals’ rights to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.”

The Biden Administration’s pursuit of Assange is providing plenty of ammunition to its ‘enemies’. And it is increasing the danger to journalists and publishers for detention in countries like China and Russia because they can simply say when they detain someone, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

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