Above Photo: Julian Assange gestures to media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates court in April. The Ecuadorian Embassy in London had withdrawn his asylum after seven years.CREDIT:GETTY IMAGES
It is almost a decade since Julian Assange woke to discover, on the front page of a Swedish newspaper, that Swedish authorities had decided to pursue him on allegations of sexual misconduct. Immediately, Julian presented himself to the police station to make a statement and clear his name. After speaking with prosecutors, he was told he could leave the country; so he did.
It was only after his arrival in London that an Interpol notice was issued for his arrest. In the meantime, Assange sought and was granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy on the grounds that he would be subjected to grave human rights abuses should he be extradited to the US. Despite years of his legal team requesting that Swedish authorities provide assurances that he would not be extradited onwards to the US, the opportunity for Assange to formally clear his name was never afforded to him. Nor was the right to the presumption of innocence. Many in the media still falsely claim that charges were laid. It was trial by media.
The political nature of the Swedish case became apparent from the beginning. As early as 2013, emails from the UK Crown Prosecution Service, released under Freedom of Information, demonstrated that the prosecutors wanted to drop the case. However, pressure was placed on them to keep it open – and they were told not to get “cold feet”. The London-based organisation Women Against Rape point out that the case was pursued with “unusual zeal” and concluded it was only pursued for the simple fact that he has uncovered war crimes.
Let’s make one thing clear, any sexual misconduct allegations should be treated seriously. But, as Women Against Rape and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture point out, this case was never about protecting the women involved; it was about ensuring the focus was kept off the war crimes that WikiLeaks exposed, and assassinating Assange’s character.
The decision now to drop the investigation is welcome news for Assange and his legal team, and removes the possibility of extradition from Sweden to the US. However, the fact remains that an Australian citizen is being pursued by the Trump administration for political purposes and is facing serious human rights violations if extradited to the US.
Currently, Assange is held on remand in Belmarsh prison, in conditions that are exacerbating his already fragile health, and impeding his ability to prepare his defence. He is facing unprecedented charges under the US Espionage Act, for allegedly carrying out actions that journalists and publishers engage in as a part of their work. He is facing 175 years – an effective death sentence – for allegedly engaging in journalism.
And let’s not forget the material that was exposed by WikiLeaks. The releases included evidence of war crimes, including torture and unlawful killings, perpetrated during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the Guantanamo files, which demonstrated that the majority of men, and children, were being held and tortured at the prison, even though they were innocent of any crime.
We need to ask ourselves why the focus is not on the crimes perpetrated by those involved in war crimes. Why is an Australian citizen being subjected to US espionage laws even though he was never on US soil? More importantly, why should an Australian citizen have allegiance to the US?
Australia and the Morrison government now face the stark choice. Do we defend an Australian citizen facing rendition and an effective death sentence, because of Trump – a President facing impeachment. Or do we abandon him?