A man is confined for seven years of his life to a diplomatic compound, fearing arrest for exposing some of the worst war crimes and financial misdoings of the past two decades, only to be stripped of his asylum status in a blatant mockery of international law before being locked away in a high security prison to await extradition and a possible life sentence. The press has obediently mounted a campaign to discredit the man, accusing him of every imaginable cardinal sin, and everyone who speaks out is accused of treachery.
To most of us, this sounds like a horror story from behind the Iron Curtain, some cartoonish portrayal of the Evil Empire whose citizens live a lie and where dissidents disappear without trace.
But this isn’t the Evil Empire, not according to Reagan at least. This is twenty-first century Britain, whose ancient democratic institutions lie at the heart of her national identity.
The man, needless to say, is Julian Assange who today pays the price for defying the institutional rot at the heart of Western governments; a rot we pretend does not exist.
Documents showing the medieval depravity that is Guantanamo Bay, details of a dirty multi-million dollar scheme to snatch up mining rights in the Central African Republic and, of course, Collateral Murder, the haunting video which shows Iraqi civilians being shot from an American helicopter while the pilots maniacally laugh at ‘these dead bastards’. Assange and Wikileaks revealed this and much more.
Those embarrassed by the revelations have chosen to defame him. They claim that Ecuador’s decision to revoke Assange’s asylum status had something to do with how he behaved in the embassy. They would have us believe that the British police spent £12.6 million to bring him to justice for – extremely dubious and now dismissed – allegations of rape in a country where sexual assault claims are routinely ignored by the authorities. They would accuse him of serving Russian interests, of being a spy and conspiring to hack into a government computer, even though Assange did nothing that would not have been done by any other investigative journalist.
His trial was inherently unfair from the outset with Assange deprived of vital legal documents and communications with his legal team apparently spied on by Spanish contractors for the CIA. The judge, Emma Arbuthnot, had a clear conflict of interest as her husband has previously been exposed by Wikileaks.
Since his incarceration at HM Prison Belmarsh he has reportedly lost 15 kilograms and shown signs of ‘full-fledged psychological torture’. His family fears that he will die in jail.
Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture who visited Assange at Belmarsh, went as far as saying, ‘In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.’ Yet even esteemed jurists like Melzer have faced torrents of abuse and intimidation for merely stating the obvious: speaking the truth to power – that is Assange’s crime.
If the extradition goes ahead it will violate current provisions that exempt political prisoners from being extradited. It will also create fundamental legal obstacles to investigative journalism, silencing those who expose the most abhorrent acts of government cruelty and greed.
Two years ago, the British Government narcissistically took the high ground over the apparent involvement of the Russian state in the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. It bears restating that Skripal was an ex-GRU agent who turned to work for the MI6 and blew the cover of 300 former comrades-in-arms. He was no dissident and no hero. And he certainly did serve foreign interests.
The event triggered among the largest expulsions of foreign diplomats in history and became a symbol of Russian authoritarianism and intolerance of dissent. The Russian government denied involvement and responded by expelling Western diplomats.
Yet today Britain conducts a show trial designed to crush a man who exposed atrocities and corrupt financial dealings, and to set an example for others. It does not even need to resort to covert measures – the public and the press don’t care.
Assange will be locked away and silenced for the rest of his life, while our governments continue to sow chaos and suffering across the world in our name.