UK ‘media freedom’ event held just 7 miles from Julian Assange’s prison cell

Julian Assange
John McEvoy

The UK is holding a ‘defend press freedom’ event just seven miles from Belmarsh prison, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is held. Assange, who is awaiting extradition proceedings to the US for publishing documents relating to US war crimes, can likely smell the crass hypocrisy from his prison cell.

Defend press freedom

The event, named the “Global Conference for Media Freedom”, is being held in London over 10 and 11 July. It’s hosted by UK foreign secretary (and prime ministerial candidate) Jeremy Hunt and Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland.

Hunt told a conference hall packed with journalists and politicians on 10 July that:

Today we send a resounding message: that media freedom is not a Western value but a universal value… It helps release the full potential of a nation…

The strongest safeguard against the dark side of power is accountability and scrutiny, and few institutions fill that role more effectively than a free media…

He continued by praising “courageous activists who publish evidence of human rights abuses”.

Beyond the journalists persecuted by the UK government, the conference’s largest casualty must surely be irony. Hunt has insisted he would not “stand in the way” of Assange’s extradition to the US. Meanwhile, UN expert on torture Nils Melzer recently told The Canary that he holds the UK government partially responsible for Assange’s torture:

The evidence made available to me strongly suggests that the primary responsibility for the sustained and concerted abuse inflicted on Mr Assange falls on the governments of the United Kingdom, Sweden, the United States and, more recently, also Ecuador.

Deadliest year on record

The UK government website cites Reporters Without Borders calling 2018 “the deadliest year on record for journalists”. It adds that:

UNESCO confirms that at least 99 journalists were killed, a further 348 imprisoned and 60 held hostage.

Following the UK government’s own source, we find Reporters Without Borders citing Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, Yemen, India, and the US as the “deadliest countries” for killings of journalists (in that order). As foreign secretary, Hunt must not have noticed the UK’s malign role in each of them.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, two journalists were killed in Afghanistan between 1992 and 2000. In the eight years (2001-09) following the US and UK-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, this number rose to 18. Between 2001 and 2019, a total of 46 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan. (Both UK prime ministerial candidates will likely continue sowing unrest and disaster in the Middle East.)

UK forces, meanwhile, are currently active in a destabilisation campaign in Syria, and UK arms sales to Mexico have consistently risen over the past six years.

The UK is also seeking closer post-Brexit ties with India, including major arms deals with BAE Systems.

The US government, with which the UK shares a “special and strategic relationship”, continues to hold whistleblower Chelsea Manning in prison.

Reporters Without Borders have also consistently described NATO member Turkey as “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists”.


Quite amazingly, Hunt also quoted the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi during his speech. In October 2018, Saudi Arabian forces killed Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Istanbul.

This event apparently made zero impact on UK policy, though. Because the government continued to arm and provide logistical support to the Saudi dictatorship, thereby sponsoring what the UN calls the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in Yemen. On 20 June, campaigners won a landmark legal challenge against new UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Hunt’s prime ministerial campaign, moreover, is reportedly being bankrolled “by a close ally of Saudi prince Mohammed Bin Salman”.

In this context, Hunt’s criticism of “authoritarian states which mysteriously eliminate political opponents” can only be understood as cynically dishonest.

Propaganda circus

The UK government is a key ally and/or sponsor of violence in the states labelled as “deadliest” for journalists. As a consequence, the ‘defend media freedom’ conference can only be seen as an Orwellian propaganda circus.

Indeed, Assange – the man who published footage of the US military murdering journalists (see: Collateral Murder) – might laugh at this sham, were his reality not so very tragic.

Featured image via screengrab/Rolling Stone

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