The world needs Julian Assange to be free

OCTOBER 18 — Sometime early next year, Australian hacker and activist Julian Assange will be told by a judge in the UK that he will be extradited to the USA to face a host of charges including espionage. 

Assange has, in fact, already been indicted on multiple charges related to obtaining and publishing classified documents in the USA. 

If he is extradited to the USA and convicted, his jail time will almost certainly be very lengthy

Assange shot to prominence over a decade ago for launching Wikileaks, a platform that allowed anonymous sources or whistleblowers to reveal and deposit files and information related to state and corporate corruption and abuses of power. 

The Wikileaks platform published vast amounts of sensitive documents and these documents revealed large-scale illegal activities by governments around the world. 

Wikileaks made clear the USA was aware it was inflicting large-scale civilian casualties on Iraq and Afghanistan. It also made clear the scale of US spying and surveillance. 

US spying wasn’t just confined to potential enemies, the world’s most powerful nation was also spying on its allies and eavesdropping constantly on the private conversations of its own people.  

A secure platform that made those who had information on government excesses feel empowered to come forward should have been celebrated by anyone with an interest in the fundamentals of democracy. 

However, governments especially the governments of western countries that have long claimed to stand for freedom and democracy turned fiercely on Wikileaks.

Assange was accused of disclosing state secrets and charged with espionage in the USA.  

Wikileaks operations were disrupted, its servers were hacked, its finances cut off.   

To avoid being extradited from the UK to the USA, Assange sought asylum in London’s Ecuadorian embassy. He lived, completely confined to the embassy, between 2012 and 2019. 

In 2019, under pressure from the USA, Ecuador handed over Assange to British authorities and since then he’s been jailed in a British high security prison as he fights a court battle to prevent his extradition to the USA. 

Basically someone who worked to expose abuses of power, has been harassed and jailed for years — his fundamental crime exposing how the most powerful countries in the world work.  

While this might seem like a happening in far-off Europe and America, Assange’s fate is a message to the world. 

The West i.e. the USA and its core European allies the UK, France, Germany, have long championed the idea of freedom, human rights and democracy. 

While there has been consistent hypocrisy behind these claims at least publicly and when dealing with their own citizens, these nations have tried to give the impression that they are committed to independent judiciaries, the free press and fundamental rights.  

But Assange, an Australian citizen who engaged in actions that seem to be consistent with core values related to freedom and democracy, now faces life in prison.  

He has had limited access to his lawyers, and even the impartiality of the judge in his trial has been called into question. 

It seems like the UK is conducting a show trial — again undermining the very core idea of freedom from arbitrary arrest.  

So on really every level what’s happened to Assange appears to be wrong and a contradiction of the ideals the countries trying him are meant to stand for. 

And the problem here is if the West is now openly giving up even the illusion of freedom and democracy — then what is left? 

China? Russia? A hodgepodge of regimes worldwide? There are simply no bastions left and the very idea of free expression and speech has come to seem anachronistic. 

Which again is why more people really have to understand that it is necessary to free Julian Assange. 

Beyond any individual, it is about respecting basic human rights and freedom in some of the few countries that claim to respect these ideas.    

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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