Opinion: A blow for Julian Assange and for the freedom of the press | Reviews | DW
It’s been a bad day for Julian Assange, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s a bad day for journalists everywhere, a bad day for press freedom and a bad day for government transparency and oversight.
In bitter irony, a London court essentially paved the way for the prosecution of Assange on human rights day – every day. And how ironic it happened on the day two journalists received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Last but not least, it coincided with the second day of the Democracy Summit hosted by US President Joe Biden.
Just before the summit, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the “indispensable role” of the media in informing the public and holding governments to account. “The United States will continue to support the courageous and necessary work of journalists around the world,” he said.
Nobody knows how this claim can be reconciled with the persecution of the founder of WikiLeaks and threats of up to 175 years in prison for alleged espionage and for publishing secret documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These documents prove that the United States committed war crimes. Yet, so far, no one has been held accountable. Instead, a vendetta has been unleashed against the journalist to whom the world owes these revelations.
Authoritarian regimes keep a close eye on
Many organizations campaigned for Assange’s release: Amnesty International; Reporters Without Borders; Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Journalists with its 600,000 members worldwide.
Matthias von Hein, editor of DW
They are all witnesses of his suffering, of his isolation in a maximum security prison. And they see the danger his persecution poses to press freedom around the world. Authoritarian regimes are already deflecting condemnation from their treatment of critical journalists by singling out Assange.
Technically, the appeal hearing was about Assange’s suicide risk if extradited to the United States. This risk was considered high at first instance and convinced the court to reject a previous extradition request.
Guarantees have been given that Assange will not be held in the inhumane conditions described by witnesses at a previous trial.
However, the revelations made public by a team of investigative journalists on the assassination plans concocted by the former American administration under Donald Trump make a mockery of these guarantees.
Pinochet in a villa, Assange in prison
Assange’s defense team will appeal the verdict and the case will drag on. But Assange should not have to endure the rest of the proceedings sitting in a prison cell.
He should be released immediately and placed under house arrest. In other cases, the British legal system has done just that. The most striking example is the case of the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet – a man responsible for the execution of thousands of opponents of the regime. When Spain requested his extradition in the late 1990s, he was allowed to spend the 16 months of the process enjoying the comforts of a south London villa until his release.
We constantly hear how Western democracies compete with autocratic systems. If Biden is serious about this, he should strive to be better than the dictators of the world. The commitment to free journalism begins at our doorstep. The United States must end its persecution of Assange. It is a stain on the democracies of the world.
This article has been translated from the German original.