This month began with one of the most crucial court cases of the year; the fate of WikiLeak’s founder Julian Assange hangs in the balance as the British justice system decides whether to extradite him to Sweden. The much anticipated judgement is expected to be announced on February 24th.
The implications of a court hearing in favour of his extradition are far more wide reaching than Assange’s departure to Scandinavia to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. Many including Jemima Khan, Tariq Ali and Tony Benn who were speaking at a public rally against his extradition on the 7th of February urgently warn that a further extradition to the United States will very possibly follow and he will be at the mercy of a justice system that does not pay exceptional heed to the right to a fair trial when it is an “enemy” of the United States standing in the dock. They predicted that if this were to happen, we would never hear of Assange again.
There is no doubt that Assange and his project WikiLeaks are “enemies” of the United States government. According to Sarah Palin, Assange should be “hunted down like Al-Qaeda and The Taliban” and they are trying their utmost to accomplish exactly this. They have mounted a vicious campaign to derail his project. The United States have attempted to block the site, stop donations and have put pressure on PayPal, Amazon, Visa, MasterCard, Western Union, Bank of America and the Swiss Bank to withdraw their services from the site.
The US is right to fear WikiLeaks, in fact arguably more so than Bin-Laden himself. The world has witnessed the shameful exposure of the secrets and lies of the US government. Corruption, war crimes and torture by the US have been revealed, along with the lies that provided the basis for the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq and a secret war against Yemen among a wealth of further revelations. For many this information is not new, however access to concrete evidence is and thus the credibility of those so often dismissed as “conspiracy theorists” is also.
However this case is more than simply the fate of one man. It is a deliberate attempt to censor the public’s right to freedom of information and to allow governments all over the world to keep their citizens in the dark, perpetuating a cycle of secrets and lies as a means of control.
In Jemima Khan’s words it will mean “the future of investigative journalism everywhere is in jeopardy as is our right as citizens to be told the truth”. In this modern age, checks and controls on governments are varying and ambiguous; however a strong, responsible free media represents an essential vehicle to prevent abuses of power.
Amusingly, this year the United States is preparing to host the annual UNESCO World Press Freedom Day event. The US government recently released a statement of support for the upcoming event describing their “concern about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals and to restrict the free flow of information.
We mark events such in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age”. The irony of this situation can be lost on no-one, presently it appears that their enduring commitment is to gag, censor and shutdown the man and organisation that represent the biggest proponents of freedom of the press.
The trial of Julian Assange is the trial of freedom of information. The US government amongst others around the world desperately desires to maintain a state of affairs where lies are protected and telling the truth is criminalised. If Assange is sent to Sweden, this will represent a blow to all those who genuinely believe in freedom of the press and thus the right of the public to know what exploits their governments are executing in their name.