Julian Assange: Hero or Enemy?

25/11/2018

Assange has been in the news for three reasons in the last week, and as always, public opinion is divided on whether he should be celebrated for his work with WikiLeaks, or locked away for good. The US government would prefer to see the latter, despite alleged ties between him and Trump, because the man has been a thorn in the US’ side for a long while now. But the question remains: is he a hero of the people, or is he just bad?

In the News Again

The least covered bit of information about Assange this week is the Ecuadorean President may be looking to make a deal with the UK and the US to end Assange’s diplomatic immunity. The WikiLeaks founder has been inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since August 2012 and was given diplomatic immunity to avoid arrest and extradition. The UK have charges against him for skipping bail, and Sweden had charges of rape and sexual assault (Assange denied the accusations, and the charges have been dropped). It’s still unclear what the US would charge him with, but one can’t help but think that if he ended up being dragged there that he would be hidden from public view. Some regard that as conspiracy, but history tells us it’s quite possible.

That is the second bit of news regarding Assange: he had his name revealed in court documents relating to a separate investigation. This still leaves us contemplating what he may be charged with, but proves (if it wasn’t already obvious) that he would be extradited to the US. Some believe it has to do with Mueller’s investigation into collusion between Donald Trump and the Russian government and Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. While whatever ‘influence’ they could have had is laughably small when compared to just how broken and cash pumped America’s democracy is in the first place, Trump would face impeachment and charges if a case is brought forward. As times goes on, it seems more and more likely, and Trump’s attempts to derail and trivialise the investigation could lead to obstruction of justice charges too.

WikiLeaks, and therefore Assange, is being investigated for their role in the election, which was the publication of DNC and Hillary Clinton emails that damaged her already shaky public image. Just how much the scandal affected her campaign is unknown – those who distrusted her did so well beforehand anyway – but it does potentially implicate WikiLeaks with ties to Russia, who allegedly obtained the emails via hacking. Assange at the time declined to reveal the source of the emails, which led to theories from Russian hacking to bizarre conspiracy theories such as the death of Seth Rich, and more; the Rich story was heavily criticised and refuted, and Russia is the more likely source. We will have to wait and see just what Assange has been charged with in relation to this when it is officially revealed at a later date.

The final piece of news, also very bizarre, is that of Pamela Anderson’s call to Scott Morrison to aid Assange. While I’m too young to recognise her for her acting, and find her connection to Assange a strange one, I find myself agreeing with her. Ever since Assange was holed up in the Embassy, our government should have immediately moved to bring him to Australia and prevent the US from chasing him. Would that ever happen? Of course not, we’re America’s loyal little bitch. But our government’s silence over the man is pathetic. Even more so, not only are we beholden to the US, but our own treatment of whistleblowers is damningly authoritarian – just take the secrecy shrouding the prosecution of Witness K (who exposed our government’s spying on the fledgling Timor-Leste government during negotiations for a maritime boundary and ownership of resources) and his lawyer.

What Now?

Assange has been described as: Islamophobic; anti-Semitic; homophobic; sexist; an alleged (and likely) sex offender, etc. He has also been described as: a hero; the champion of free speech and government transparency; a political prisoner. You defend him and you’re immediately cast as an apologist for his actions in recent years, but to discard the importance of his previous work is to be blind to the truth and ignorant of the abuse of power by governments and other agencies. I find myself on the defending side. His personal life and attitudes are abhorrent, and should rightfully be judged as such. But while these are justifiable criticisms, they are not what he is being hounded for by the UK and US. He’s being hunted for WikiLeaks’ role in the greatest publications of classified information of the century so far, something he should be celebrated for.

It’s been stated that his mental and physical health are in bad condition due to his confinement, and that his presence there under threat of extradition is in violation of his human rights. Sooner rather than later, he will need to leave, whether for health or forced out by Ecuador. The most likely scenario is the worst – extradition to the US, where his fate would be uncertain. I believe the best solution is to bring him to Australia, without threat of extradition to the US. Once here, if he is to be charged with sexual assault, ties to Russian interference in the US election, or any other offense he may have to his name, then so be it. But his sentence and time served should be done here, safely away from American hands (that’s sure to make Americans angry, but I say tough luck).

Hate the person, admire the deeds. Our government needs to stand up for itself, or step aside for someone who will. Our complicity is not unnoticed.

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