The Extradition of Julian Assange is an attack on press freedoms
Whilst being held in Belmarsh prison, British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the US on espionage charges
Whilst being held in Belmarsh prison, British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the US on espionage charges. Assange is an Australian-born computer programmer who is the founder of WikiLeaks, which acted as an international, non-profit whistle-blowing organisation that was created in Iceland in 2006. Assange is most notably known for exposing war crimes of the American government relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, after WikiLeaks published more 500,000 classified US documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. WikiLeaks lifted the lid on the unjust and criminal wars the US was embroiled in. The leaked documents were an insight into US foreign policy and warfare. The organisation documented and shared a video of a US military Apache helicopter killing more than a dozen Iraqis and journalists as well exposing that tortue was normalised. The documents published also exposed civilian deaths, friendly-fire casualties, US air raids; the role of al-Qaeda in the country and foreign nations providing support to Afghan leaders and the Taliban.
The leaked documents ran in contradiction to the jingoism and rabid warmongering that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were based on. The wars were waged as an exercise in US imperialism and faux democratic values; a war steeped in chauvinistic ideas of civilisation. The WikiLeaks documents attacked and exposed the paper-thin justifications for war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the legitimacy of US and British occupation was thrown into disarray. Assange is being prosecuted in the US under the 1917 espionage act, due to WikiLeaks. Prior to his time in Belmarsh, Assange has fought a long and arduous battle to resist extradition to the US due to developing plots to assassinate him. Sexual assault allegations levied against him and then subsequently dropped by the Swedish authorities, all whilst residing in the Ecuadorean embassy until 2019 due to the state revoking his political asylum.
Assange’s extradition should be seen within the broader context of the right’s obsession with silencing those that dissent from accepted political norms. Press freedoms are a highly contested subject, often galvanised by the right as they claim that the ‘woke left’ engineer the cancelation of rightwing idealogues. However, what we must address is that the extradition of Assange is the direct antithesis of freedom of the press, which, unironically seems to be lost on the rightwing billionaire press. Assange acted as any journalist with integrity should do; he exposed the lies of the US and made it public knowledge. Both in the UK and the US, the media landscape is overtly skewed to the right and owned largely by the super rich. In the UK, three companies dominate 90% of the newspaper market (News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach). With regards to online readers, the same three companies own 80% of the market. The likes of the Murdochs, Rothermeres and Barclays - all billionaires - control an estimated 68% of national newspaper circulation. What this demonstrates is that the rich and powerful have a monopoly over the accepted forms of knowledge production; they hoard the mass means of communication in order to spread a rightwing ideology.
In the US, murky and influential figures such as Rupert Murdoch can be seen throughout the media ecology. Murdoch's company, New Corp not only owns British media outlets such as The Sun and the Times, but also owns Fox Network and the Wall Street Journal. His influence can be felt globally, and as one of the key architects of Australian politics, Murdoch's media empire has shifted opinion on climate change. Effectively, Murdoch has a monopoly on the Australian media and as such, has had the ability to espouse climate denialism. We must also be conscious of the fact that the extradition of Assange cannot be viewed in isolation. The British state has administered highly violent and authoritarian laws to quell public dissent in the form of the UK government's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. In effect, the Bill acts as a dangerous power grab by the state, as it will give unprecedented power to the ruling class to destroy political unrest and limit the parameters of protesting. In the wake of huge social movements led by minoritised communities and vulnerable communities; the Bill aims to roll back the traction grassroots organisations have made.
Both the extradition of Assange and the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill are connected. Both act as disciplinary tools used by the state to curb civil disobedience. By punishing Assange via extradition, a shockwave is sent throughout society, signalling that those who deviate from the accepted journalistic norms will suffer.
Assange has undoubtedly had his life pursuing the truth ruined, whereas war criminals such as George W Bush and Tony Blair are now valorised and praised. Bush over recent years has been enjoying his revamped and rehabilitated persona as an author and ‘elderstatement’, and Blair's, reputation is going through a process of laundering, ranging from his recent knighthood, to Keir Starmer using Blair in a campaign video for the Labour Party; desperately trying to paint the him as electable.
Both leaders waged an unjust war - and for that - they have been rewarded. Bush’s Freudian slip in relation to Putin's reactionary war on Ukraine, highlights perhaps a weighing conscience, or perhaps years on, he is able to admit the atrocity due to no effective way of holding him to account. The Chilcot report on Blairs time as PM shows that he deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by the Iraqi regime. Like buzzards, Assange's enemies are closing in on him, as there is a material threat to Assange's life, as previously some senior officials inside the CIA and the Trump administration discussed killing him. Assange acted principally exposing the crimes commited under the guise of the ‘war on terror’, and whilst he mounts his legal appeal, we must not forget that his enemies are enjoying book deals and lucrative speaking engagements.
Article written by Ashley Roach-McFarlane
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