Julian Assange – Free at Last!

Dave Kellaway welcomes the release of Assange and examines the political implications of the case.

 

Julian Assange is expected to return to Australia soon, reuniting with his partner Stella and their two children. The Wikileaks founder has accepted a plea bargain, pleading guilty to one criminal count of releasing state security secrets. He will be released on the basis that he has already spent five years in a high-security British prison.

Assange fled Sweden, where prosecutors sought to try him on a sexual assault charge, fearing—justifiably—that the United States would use this opportunity to request his extradition. The US had charged him with exposing state information about its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which could have led to life imprisonment or even the death penalty. To avoid extradition by a compliant British government, Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. A change of government in Ecuador five years ago allowed British police to extract him from the embassy, leading to his incarceration in Belmarsh high-security prison as his extradition case proceeded through British courts.

International Campaign and Political Implications

Despite being found guilty of no charge, Assange has endured a harsh prison regime, spending twenty-three hours a day in a small cell, which has significantly impacted his health. His release is a tribute to the international campaign advocating for him, particularly strong in the US, Britain, and Australia. His partner Stella has been an articulate and tireless campaigner, putting pressure on Albanese, the current Australian premier, who managed to secure a deal with Biden. This was fortunately done before the upcoming US presidential elections, where a Trump victory would have spelt disaster for Assange. Mike Pence, former Trump minister, has already denounced the deal.

Biden, facing declining popularity due to his support for the Israeli apartheid state, likely hopes this move will regain some support among progressive voters. However, bipartisan support in Britain for its collaboration with US authorities remains shameful. Both Tories and Labour hide behind respecting the judicial process, though everyone knows these extradition processes are highly political. Despite being led by a former human rights lawyer, Labour has done little for Assange’s defence since Corbyn’s leadership, with only individual progressive Labour MPs speaking out. The campaign has primarily been led by radical left and progressive human rights groups outside the Labour party, proving these currents are far from irrelevant.

In 2020, Sir Keir told the Huffington Post that the extradition system was “very good” and that judges in non-jury courts should be left to do their job. Documents on Keir Starmer’s high-level meetings in the US while overseeing Assange’s possible extradition to Sweden as head of the Crown Prosecution Service have been removed from the public record. See Declassified UK

The Labour party has historically maintained a bipartisan stance on military and state security issues, believing the state to be neutral and not defending any class interests. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership challenged this consensus to some extent, leading to exceptional establishment and media attacks. Leftists seeking to build a socialist alternative must confront this reality.

The Fight for Transparency Continues

Regardless of opinions on how Assange handled the allegations from the Swedish women fifteen years ago—allegations subsequently dropped by Swedish authorities—his courageous stand should not be forgotten. He has risked his health and life to defend the public’s right to know about the violence inflicted on people during US military actions. The video of a US helicopter killing civilians is a stark example. Claims that Wikileaks endangered agents’ lives have never been substantiated, as the authorities argue it is all secret.

Assange’s decision to accept the deal is understandable given his significant suffering, and he remains critical of how states like Britain and the US hide the truth from their citizens. However, the deal effectively criminalises his journalistic work, setting a dangerous precedent for further prosecutions of journalists. The campaign must continue to fight for maximum transparency regarding state military and security services.

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, stated:

“A plea deal would avert the worst-case scenario for press freedom, but this deal contemplates that Assange will have served five years in prison for activities that journalists engage in every day… It will cast a long shadow over the most important kinds of journalism, not just in this country but around the world.”


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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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