Extraditing Assange

Editorial Board
Monday, Jun 20, 2022

With freedom of expression in peril the world over, the case of Julian Assange is a grim reminder of how even so-called democratic countries behave when it comes to their own matters. The decision of UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to extradite Assange to the United States goes against the grain of all civil liberties that the West feels proud of. Assange’s long-running legal saga appears to be closer to an unceremonious conclusion. The US authorities want Assange on 18 counts – most of them dubious and unconvincing. The US authorities have also included a spying charge against Assange which seems to be a stretch of imagination. The US claims that WikiLeaks released vast troves of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables. Most of them exposed the unethical and illegal practices American authorities have been following. Washington says that Assange put lives in danger, but the case fails to prove this point. In fact, lives were lost and put in danger due to US policies rather than due to Assange’s whistle-blowing revelations via Wikileaks.

The right to free speech is a fundamental right and press freedom is enshrined in most constitutions across the globe. This case has also exposed British democracy as British courts and the government have tended to look askance at the implications of such extradition. The British government rather than extraditing Assange – who is likely to receive a life sentence is the US – should have opened more appeal avenues. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) must take a serious note of this issue and intervene to prevent Assange’s extradition. Though after Brexit, the British government feels less inclined to abide by the standards of the European Union, any verdict by ECHR will still have an impact. The decision by the UK court that the extradition would not be an abuse of power or oppressive and unjust is beyond comprehension; and this is what the UK Home Office is relying on.

Freedom of expression is something Western nations talk a lot about when it comes to other countries such as China and Russia. But when the Global North is on trial, they are ready to compromise on this right. Assange’s health is deteriorating, and he needs medical help and a conducive atmosphere to live a free life that the US authorities are unlikely to provide. The West has traditionally welcomed whistleblowers from across the world – as long as the whistle being blown is against states the West would like to see brought down a notch or two. It is worth recalling that a British judge had originally ruled that Assange should not be deported as his mental health was at risk and there was a possibility of a suicide attempt if convicted. Unfortunately, this was overturned on appeal. Perhaps the best option is to send Assange back to the country of his birth Australia with an assurance that he will get legal protection there. Most of the charges against Assange appear to be politically motivated, as it happens in most cases against journalists and whistleblowers. Global elites seem to have no answer to the problems that plague the world. Instead, they have deigned it better to clamp down on press freedom – often in the name of national interest. Journalism entered a time when it is fast becoming the enemy. The task of telling truth to power is more dangerous and thankless than ever before.