Time To End Illegal Detention Of Journalist Julian Assange

Above: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London about the UN report that found he was being detained abritrarily (AAP).

UN Rules Assange is Being Arbitrarily Detained; Time for Sweden, Great Britain and US to Stop Persecution of Wikileaks Editor

Julian Assange, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, has changed journalism forever. His breakthrough of providing whistleblowers a path to anonymously share the truth has created the kind of transparency that government and business fear. That genie is out of the bottle and government and corporations must now expect exposure, thanks to Assange and Wikileaks.

Assange should be given an award for his breakthrough in journalism, instead he has been detained for more than five years on questionable charges. Now we know his detention has also been a violation of international law.

The UN Investigation and Ruling

On February 5, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention – the international tribunal that determines whether governments are complying with their human rights obligations – ruled that Assange has been detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden.  The UN experts “called on the Swedish and British authorities to end Mr. Assange’s deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation.”

John Pilger describes some of the UN’s investigation: “The UN Working Group bases its judgments on the European Convention on Human Rights and three other treaties that are binding on all its signatories. Both Britain and Sweden participated in the 16-month long UN investigation and submitted evidence and defended their position before the tribunal.” Jonathan Cook reports that the UN tribunal “comprises leading experts in international human rights law from around the world who have been studying his case since 2014.”

Pilger also reminds people of some of the important work this committee has done and how the UK and Sweden have supported it, writing: “In previous, celebrated cases ruled upon by the Working Group – Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, detained Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian in Iran, both Britain and Sweden have given support to the tribunal.”

Prior to the decision, Assange promised to leave the Embassy and submit to arrest by British authorities if the UN Working Group ruled against him. After the decision, Assange spoke to the public, as the Guardian reported from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, he described their ruling as a “victory that cannot be denied” and “In the 12-minute speech, Assange said his legal team would now examine if there were ‘criminal consequences’ for the parties who he said continue to deny him his freedom, citing the UN Convention Against Torture.”

The UN Committee described their ruling as binding on the governments involved but immediately the UK and Sweden said it was mistaken to hold them responsible since Assange was free to leave the Embassy at any time, a claim they know is absurd since it will result in his arrest and extradition.  Both countries have decided to ignore the rule of law.

Why do they want to keep Assange imprisoned?

Since Wikileaks published national security documents on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and State Department cables, the United States has been working to stop him. During his detention Wikileaks has continued to leak documents, e.g. on the trade agreements including the Trans Pacific Partnership, Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Trade in Services Agreement. He and Wikileaks also assisted Edward Snowden in getting political asylum after he leaked documents on NSA spying.

Assange is on a US target list according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Documents include the “Manhunting Timeline,” used to track terrorists which includes Assange and Wikileaks. The Intercept cites “An entry from August 2010 – headlined ‘United States, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Iceland’ – states: ‘The United States on August 10 urged other nations with forces in Afghanistan, including Australia, United Kingdom, and Germany, to consider filing criminal charges against Julian Assange.’”

The US has had a goal of limiting Assange’s travel, the Intercept also notes in an article in the Daily Beast, which cited an anonymous U.S. official and “reported that ‘the Obama administration is pressing Britain, Germany, Australia, and other allied Western governments to consider opening criminal investigations of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and to severely limit his nomadic travels across international borders.’” It seems that his illegal detention for five years has met that US goal.

They want to keep Assange detained because:

–          Governments do not want people to know about what is really going on in negotiations on the corporate rigged trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

–          They do not want the realities of how the United States and the UK fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in ways that violated international law to be exposed.

–          The want to maintain secrecy of how the United States treats prisoners, actually tortures prisoners, at Guantanamo Bay and other sites.

–          They do not want people seeing the daily realities of how the US State Department conducts foreign policy working closely with transnational corporations, supporting dictators and coups of democratically elected governments nor do they want people to see violations of law like spying on foreign diplomats when they come to the UN – a crime specifically directed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While transparency is essential for democracy, in all of these matters the people in power want to act in secrecy. They do not want the people to know of their hand-in-glove relationships with big business and they do not want their illegal activity exposed.

For all of this Julian Assange has been threatened with prosecution by the United States government and now, according to the United Nations illegally detained.

The Underlying Case in Sweden

The foundation for Assange being held illegally comes from Sweden, in a case where Assange has never been charged with a crime.

In Sweden, prosecutors initially declined to seek charges on alleged rapes. The Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, interviewed Assange and dismissed the charges saying, “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.”

But then an ideological prosecutor, Marianne Ny, decided to intervene and prosecute Assange. More than five year later she has actually not charged him with any crime or done anything to resolve the case.

Assange has offered to be interviewed by prosecutors since the beginning of this prosecutorial fiasco. The Intercept reported “In 2014, a Swedish appeals court upheld the detention but criticized ‘the failure of the prosecutors to examine alternative avenues is not in line with their obligation … to move the preliminary investigation forward.’” Before the appeal to the Supreme Court was heard the prosecutor announced they would interview Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy, as a result the court upheld the detention.

The first request for an interview was denied by the Ecuadorian government as they insisted that Ecuador interview Assange based on questions prepared by the Swedish prosecutor. Less than a week after the UN decision, the Swedish prosecutor said she would revise the request to interview Assange in London. It is very likely this prosecution could have been resolved years ago if there had been a fair investigation.

Assange has suffered enough. He was detained in isolation in Wandsworth Prison for 10 days in 2010, then subjected to house arrest for 550 days and for more than three years he has been in the Ecuadorian Embassy as a political refugee.  The statute of limitations on the charges he faces expires in 2020.

If Assange were to go to Sweden, he would immediately be put in jail and very likely be subject to extradition to the United States. It is well known a grand jury in Alexandria, VA has held an inquisition about Assange and that there is very likely a secret indictment against him.  According to the Sydney Morning Herald the US Department of Justice confirmed in April 2014 court filings that a national security criminal investigation and “pending prosecution” proceed against Assange. The FBI is leading the investigation with a dozen other agencies involved. This is a very real threat as the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the previous US presidents combined.

Time to Release Assange, End Investigations Against Journalism

All three governments – the United States, Great Britain and Sweden – have been involved in torture.  None of these governments have ever been held responsible for the crime of torture, which is illegal under international law. Should we be surprised that these same governments immediately rejected the UN report? These governments snub their nose at the rule of law, think they are above it and can continue to act in illegal ways.

The time is now to end the detention of Julian Assange.  The US retribution against Assange is at the root of this illegal detention. It is time for the United States to announce an end to the persecution of the editor of Wikileaks. (Take action here, sign this petition to the president and Congress.) The illegal behavior by Sweden and the UK, spurred on by the United States, should not be ignored by the media. If they can do this to Assange, they can do it to other reporters or editors. How can the US be serious about Freedom of the Press when they threaten a journalist who has documented the truth about their actions?

The US through its allies may be able to hold Julian Assange even though it violates international law, but they will never be able to protect their secrets from anonymous disclosures. The illegal detention of Assange will have the opposite effect that the US and its allies want – it will not stop leaks; it will encourage them. The technology for anonymous leaks is improving. People in government will be even more justified to leak the truth as they realize they are working for a government that violates the law.

It is time for justice to prevail – stop the illegal detention of Julian Assange, end the threats to Edward Snowden, pardon Chelsea Manning and other jailed whistleblowers who merely exposed the truth about how the US security state is undermining freedom and democracy.

Kevin Zeese is co-director of Popular Resistance. He is an attorney who serves on the Steering Committee of the Chelsea Manning Support Network and on the Advisory Board of the Courage Foundation which works to protect whistleblowers.