Julian Assange is a Political Prisoner, not a Fugitive from Justice
On February 5th this year, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) ruled that Julian Assange is a political prisoner, and that the governments of the UK and Sweden should both release him and compensate him for the abuse he has suffered because of their actions. The official response of British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was nothing short of extra-ordinary: “I reject the decision of this working group. It is a group made up of lay people and not lawyers. Julian Assange is a fugitive from justice. He is hiding from justice in the Ecuadorian embassy.” What was even more extra-ordinary was the way the British media, including so-called “liberal” outlets like the BBC and The Guardian, made no attempt whatsoever to inform the British public that this statement from Hammond was, in the words of former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray “a blatant, a massive, an enormous, a completely astonishing lie.”
The truth is that the Working Group consists of highly qualified and experienced legal experts (you can find their CVs here), and is the highest authority that political dissidents and whistle-blowers can appeal to, having previously ruled in favour of Myanmar dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, and Anwar Ibrahim, a Malaysian opposition leader imprisoned on politically-motivated sodomy charges. By not only refusing to accept their ruling but ridiculing this panel, the governments of the UK and Sweden are setting a deeply troubling precedent. As pointed out on February 15th by Alfred de Zayas, the UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable Order, “Those states who claim to be at the vanguard of human rights should give good example, even if they do not agree with the conclusions of UN experts. The international order depends on the consistent and uniform application of international law, and is undermined when states pick and choose. The concept of human dignity is holistic. An à la carte approach to human rights erodes the credibility of the entire system.” In other words, if states who are supposedly leading advocates of human rights choose to ignore the ruling of the UNWGAD when it rules against them, then they have no right to criticise any other despotic regime which chooses to ignore such rulings. This leads to a world where whistle-blowers and dissidents have no protection from persecution at the hands of those people whose crimes they expose and challenge.
There will doubtless be people reading this who still believe that Assange is a rapist hiding from Swedish justice. The first thing you should note is that regardless of the propaganda tsunami coming out of London, Stockholm and Washington, the United States is absolutely desperate to get their hands on Assange, who faces prosecution by Secret Grand Jury for his role in publishing evidence of American war crimes leaked by Chelsea Manning (details here). Assange has never tried to hide from Swedish justice. On the contrary, he has repeatedly asked for the Swedish prosecutor to interview him about the rape allegations in London – a request that until very recently the Swedes refused (no reason given). He’s also offered to go to Sweden provided the Swedes give an assurance he will not be extradited to the United States, and Sweden has refused this assurance. But the most compelling reason why the UNWGAD ruled in Assange’s favour is the obviously trumped-up nature of the allegations (and they are nothing more than allegations – no charges have been brought at any time). Have you noticed how the British media, so keen to condemn Assange as a sex criminal, never bother to provide any details about these supposed crimes?
On the August 14th and 17th 2010 Assange has sex with two different women he met while speaking at a Swedish conference. In neither case do the women involved initially claim it was non-consensual. On August 18th Assange applies for a permit to live and work in Sweden, hoping to start a branch of Wikileaks there, under Swedish law that supposedly protects whistleblowers. Just two days later an arrest warrant is issued for Assange on allegations of “rape and molestation”. The two women have had contact with each other, and now both of them are claiming that what started out as consensual sex turned into non-consensual sex. On the same day Assange’s office declare on Twitter that they have been warned to expect dirty tricks. The next day – August 21st – the arrest warrant is withdrawn. “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape,” says one of Stockholm’s chief prosecutors, Eva Finne. Prosecutors say the investigation into the molestation allegation (which recently expired) will continue but it is not a serious enough crime for an arrest warrant. Then, on September 1st, Swedish Director of Prosecution Marianne Nye says she is re-opening the case, and issues an Interpol arrest warrant for the crime of “sex by surprise”, which is not a crime under UK law and carries a penalty of 5000 kronor (about £500) in Sweden. Yes, you read that correctly. The British taxpayer has paid over £10million for a round-the-clock police presence outside the Ecuadorian embassy in order to apprehend a person who has not been charged for a Swedish offence carrying a penalty of £500 (more details here).
The continued de-facto detention Julian Assange, now a political prisoner confined without access to sunlight for nearly four years, is an ongoing stain on the reputation of the United Kingdom as a country which leads the way on human rights, international law and the protection of those who expose war crimes. Assange remains trapped, a fugitive not from Swedish justice but from an unfair, secret trial and probably life imprisonment in the United States for exposing war crimes committed by US armed forces. One can only hope that the Swedes, who are increasingly embarrassed to have anything to do with this sordid affair, will soon interview Assange in London, drop the outstanding allegations and wash their hands of the whole thing. That would leave the British authorities in a difficult bind: inventing a massive propaganda lie is one thing; changing that propaganda lie to a completely different one three years later is quite another.
Je suis Assange.