Coverage of Assange’s court appearance shows what a sorry state the media is in

Julian Assange
Tracy Keeling

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in court on 21 October in his efforts to fight extradition to the US. Numerous outlets reported on it. Bloomberg described the journalist as “mumbling”. Another said he seemed “frail and confused”. Many mentioned that Assange ‘struggled to say his name’ during the appearance.

Essentially, they painted a picture of the WikiLeaks founder as weak and clueless. His comments in court, however, were very lucid. Clearly, Assange is not in the best health; but he’s far from the hopeless wreck the media tried to portray.

“This is not equitable”

British authorities are currently detaining Assange in Belmarsh prison after the Met Police arrested him in April. The US is seeking his extradition from the UK for prosecution over WikiLeaks‘s journalistic work.

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During his appearance in Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 21 October, district judge Vanessa Baraitser asked him if he understood what was happening in court. The Guardian reported that “he appeared to say” that he didn’t ‘really’ understand and couldn’t ‘think properly’. He then explained what exactly was difficult to understand:

I don’t understand how this is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t access my writings. It’s very difficult where I am to do anything but these people have unlimited resources.

They are saying journalists and whistleblowers are enemies of the people. They have unfair advantages dealing with documents. They [know] the interior of my life with my psychologist. They steal my children’s DNA. This is not equitable what is happening here.

By any standards, this is a clear and coherent statement. The WikiLeaks founder expresses a firm understanding of the unfairness in his current fight with the US authorities over extradition for his work.

Investigative journalist John Pilger visited Assange a few days before the court appearance. And his impression of Assange resembled the performance the latter gave in court:

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and Pilger were among Assange’s supporters in a packed public gallery, while dozens of protesters gathered outside court.

No extension

In addition to US charges related to WikiLeaks revelations, Assange also faces a rape allegation in Sweden. Now that Assange no longer has asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, Swedish authorities have reopened this investigation at the request of the alleged survivor’s lawyer. Assange’s lawyer has previously insisted that “Julian has never been concerned about facing British justice, or indeed Swedish justice”. It is “US injustice”, she said, that concerns him.

The Canary believes that no allegations of sexual assault or rape should ever become politicised by either side.

The Westminster Magistrates’ Court appearance was, however, solely about Assange’s potential extradition to the US. In court, Mark Summers QC said:

Our case will be that this is a political attempt to signal to journalists the consequences of publishing information. It is legally unprecedented

Summers also claimed the US was involved in invading his client’s legal privilege:

The American state has been actively engaged in intruding into privileged discussions between Mr Assange and his lawyers in the embassy, also unlawful copying of their telephones and computers (and) hooded men breaking into offices

Assange’s defence lawyers asked for more time to gather evidence. The judge denied the request. His next case management hearing will take place on 19 December, before a full extradition hearing in February.

Unprecedented

Former home secretary Sajid Javid signed an order in June allowing Assange to be extradited to the US over the allegations relating to his journalistic work. Government prosecutor James Lewis QC was also firmly against the judge giving Assange any extra time to prepare his case.

Clearly, the full weight of the British and US state apparatus is bearing down on the WikiLeaks founder in this extradition case. That was made explicitly clear in a statement by Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, in May. He urged the UK not to extradite Assange to the US, 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

Assange’s own comments in court show he’s well aware of the titan he faces. He’s not the mess the media is making out. And as a letter he sent from prison shows, he’s also aware this fight isn’t just about him:

It’s not just me. It’s much wider. It’s all of us. It’s all journalists, and all publishers who do their job who are in danger.

Featured image via 60 Minutes Australia/YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. The author of this piece was obviously not in the court last Monday and therefore relied upon reports published by the corporate media, themselves relying largely upon agency reports.

      Julian was in a pitiful state. People in the public gallery were in tears. It was deeply disturbing to hear this extraordinarily intelligent man, when asked if he had understood the proceedings, say: “Not really. I can’t think properly.”

      In Belmarsh, he was initially allowed to fraternise with other inmates, but in May he was moved to a cell in the medical wing. Why is he still there, five months later? What treatment is he receiving? What drugs are being administered to him? Why, when supposedly under medical care, is he deteriorating instead of improving? Nobody asks.

      Here is a link to the report by Craig Murray, which is a far more accurate account than those referred to in the above article:
      ‌https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2019/10/assange-in-court/

    2. I’m sorry, truly, to have to say that your article appears to be thoroughly misplaced. Eye witness accounts contradict this article, including that of John Pilger, who had this to say on Afshin Ratansi’s “Going Underground’ on RT:

      “I saw him last Thursday. His spirit had returned in some way because there was something ahead, there was a court case which was the beginning of the fight, but watching him in court that spirit had just departed; he’s lost almost 15 kilos in weight, he’s isolated … he always wants to reassure me and others who see him that he’s ok when clearly he’s not ok. I know because we discussed on Thursday what he might say in court, and I’m sure that he practised and tried to memorise words, but they couldn’t come up…”.

      https://www.rt.com/shows/going-underground/471597-john-pilger-assange-extradition/

      Craig Murray was also extremely shocked by what he saw:

      “Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture …. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture … I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

      I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable.” Athena provides the link, above.

      I’m afraid this article unwittingly mitigates the seriousness of the treatment being meted out to a man who is, after all, only on remand, and convicted of nothing. It appears his health is in worrying decline, there are many rumours of various drugs being administered, and the evidence appears to corroborate the UN rapporteur’s finding that his treatment at the hands of the UK authorities amounts to torture.

      It appears we are witnessing the deliberate destruction of an innocent man by the state.

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