The political and corporate assault on WikiLeaks
The denial of bail to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange looks to be far more about politics than justice, conveniently coinciding as it does with a (so far little-reported) threat by the US to get in on the extradition game.
Mr Assange faces serious sexual assault charges in Sweden which ostensibly have nothing to do with the furore over the whistle-blowing website's release of 250,000 secret US government documents online.
No-one should take such accusations lightly. But, curiously, the most senior Swedish prosecutor originally decided to drop the charges because of lack of evidence, and they were only revived after the intervention of a right-wing MP and his lawyer, also a politician. Mr Assange strenuously denies the claims against him. He and his representatives have so far been denied any access to the alleged evidence involved.
Bizarrely, the Swedish authorities chose to issue an arrest warrant in spite of the fact that Mr Assange has been offering to meet with them to talk about the allegations for over three months, with no response. His solicitors, leading media law firm Finers Stephens Innocent (http://www.fsilaw.com/) have also made his whereabouts known to the authorities and this morning he voluntarily went to the police. He had even handed his passport in.
But Sweden has preferred to collude in the impression, widely circulated in the US, that Mr Assange is a "fugitive" who is "on the run". An arrest warrant issued merely for questioning (as it was) is highly irregular and challengeable. No formal charges have been issued.
Despite all this, and the offers of £180,000 surety from five public figures (including campaigning journalist John Pilger, film maker Ken Loach and freedom of speech proponent Jemima Khan), Mr Assange has now been incarcerated by district judge Howard Riddle.
Mark Stephens, his lawyer, accused Swedish prosecutors of an “ambush” after ignoring his client’s offers to co-operate. He declared: “I’ve worked with third world countries and authoritarian regimes where there has been more of an attempt at a fair process."
In addition, several governments (including the US, China, Russia, and probably the UK) have authorised cyber-attacks on WikiLeaks, American politicians have called for Mr Assange's execution for treason, a Swiss bank has frozen his assets, and large companies like MasterCard, Visa, Amazon and Paypal have sought to deny the organisation money and web access on specious and inappropriate grounds.
This rapid gelling and solidarity of business and political interests is disturbing, revealing and unmistakable in its intensity and purpose - to try to clamp down on dissent and to bully and intimidate those involved in disclosing information which exposes corporate mendacity.
The moral issues involved in the custody and disclosure of government communications are complex. But the presumption of freedom of information and freedom of speech are fundamental to democratic legitimacy, and it is these which are most fundamentally at stake in the WikiLeaks drama.
Meanwhile, in an article for The Australian newspaper (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/wikileaks/dont-shoot-messenger-...), Mr Assange denies he has "put lives at risk", as is constantly claimed by those seeking to curb the free flow of information in the interests of "security".
He writes: "WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed. But the US, with Australian government connivance, has killed thousands in the past few months alone. US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates admitted in a letter to the US congress that no sensitive intelligence sources or methods had been compromised by the Afghan war logs disclosure. The Pentagon stated there was no evidence the WikiLeaks reports had led to anyone being harmed in Afghanistan. NATO in Kabul told CNN it couldn't find a single person who needed protecting. The Australian Department of Defence said the same. No Australian troops or sources have been hurt by anything we have published."
We citizens ought to be deeply disturbed by the political machinations, deception and denials of justice which are now being deployed against Mr Assange and WikiLeaks. The mask of consent and legality is being ripped off in front of our eyes.
See also: 'US cable leaks reveal disturbing and important information' (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13723)
Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.
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