Assange’s arrest shows us very clearly who supports freedom of speech, and who doesn’t

Julian Assange
Fréa Lockley

On 11 April, police arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. It’s since emerged that the US government is trying to seek his immediate extradition. Assange’s arrest – and people’s responses to it – show just how crucial this is to the fight to protect free speech. And it exposes which side people are on in that battle.

“The crimes governments commit”

Assange had diplomatic asylum and had lived at the embassy since 2012, eventually gaining Ecuadorian citizenship. As The Canary reported recently, Assange already suspected he may soon face eviction. This came following allegations of corruption against Ecuadorian president Lenín Moreno.

Moreno is reportedly behind the orders that allowed Metropolitan Police to enter the embassy and arrest Assange. Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s former president, called Moreno a “traitor”:

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As video footage of Assange circulated on social media, numerous high-profile figures expressed shock. Actor and model Pamela Anderson said:

Whistleblowers in prison; killers and war criminals walking free

WikiLeaks is an independent media organisation that publishes information from whistleblowers. It released documents on governments across the world including the USIranKenya and China, as well as on the UK far right.

In 2007, it published Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta, a US army manual for soldiers working at Guantanamo Bay. This prompted widespread concern over human rights abuses at the notorious facility.

As human rights advocacy group CAGE said in a supporting statement:

The work that Assange and Wikileaks produced has reshaped the debate about the abuses of powerful states, especially the US, in the context of the War on Terror. Without such courageous work, the awareness of unspeakable crimes, let alone the small semblance of accountability that we have seen, would have never happened.

In 2012, WikiLeaks shocked the world when it shared horrific video footage from Iraq in 2007. This showed US helicopter pilots laughing as they targeted and shot Iraqi civilians. The attack “resulted in 12 dead civilians, including a Reuters’ journalist and cameraman”. Chelsea Manning is also currently in jail for her role as a whistleblower in some major WikiLeaks exposés:

“A dark moment”

As many people noted, Assange’s arrest poses serious questions about press freedom:

Whistleblower Edward Snowden also called it “a dark moment for press freedom”.

Meanwhile, others pointed out the complexities of Assange’s case, which involves several governments. His legal position is also unique:

As The Canary recently reported, UN special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer has warned the UK government about possible violations of a journalist’s human rights in the possible case of Assange’s arrest.

The UK government’s open disregard

On 6 April, Melzer pointed out that Assange could be at risk of “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. As Snowden also pointed out, in December 2018 the UN ruled that his detention was “arbitrary, a violation of human rights”:

Yet immediately following the arrest, leading Conservatives launched a vile attack on Assange, fully supporting his arrest. Theresa May ‘welcomed the news’:

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt also joined in and thanked Moreno; as did home secretary Sajid Javid.

Yet shadow home secretary Diane Abbott defended Assange. She wasn’t afraid to point out that he hasn’t been found “guilty” of anything other than exposing the truth:

And WikiLeaks reminded everyone of an even bigger truth:

We should commend Assange for the work WikiLeaks has done. And we must oppose the attempts to gag him. Because his arrest – and what happens next – could be critical in determining the future of free speech.

Featured image via screengrab/WikiLeaks

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