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Shredding asylum: the arrest of Julian Assange

By Binoy Kampmark - posted Monday, 15 April 2019


Stripped bare, the issue for Assange is this. Dislike him, loathe him, and feel your skin crawl before him. Fantasise about what he might or might not have done in Sweden. Sanctify and scribble hagiography about him. Speculate about how he might have been as a tenant of asylum. He remains a publisher and a journalist, unconventional, daring, a vigilante of sorts who sought to etch himself into history while giving the world a very cogent, thrilling idea: opening the darkened corridors of corrupting power and holding them accountable.

As the Centre for Investigate Journalism states, "Whatever your view of its philosophy of radical transparency, WikiLeaks is a publisher. Any charges now brought in connection with that material, or any attempt to extradite Mr Assange to the United States for prosecution under the deeply flawed cudgel of the Espionage Act 1917 is an attack on all of us." Edward Snowden added a concurring voice: Ecuador's invitation for the UK secret police "to drag a publisher of – like it or not – award winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books. Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom."

Even if he has never been fully accepted within the fraternity of the press, he has, in many ways, led its change. His forensic style of journalism, with its techniques of placing original documentation upon sites for readers to consult, has brought greater scrutiny of sources. His embrace of secure systems for sending classified material, and his pioneering of international cross-border collaborative reporting, transformed the nature of modern journalism. But pioneers tend to find themselves in the colosseum facing the hungry lions of state.

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The pursuit of Assange, as British Labour's Diane Abbott quite accurately assessed, was not done "to protect US national security" but "because he has exposed wrongdoing by US administrations and their military forces." Former Greek finance minister and rabble rousing economist Yanis Varoufakis saw the clouds lift on the sham. "The game is up. Years of lies exposed. It was never about Sweden, Putin, Trump or Hillary. Assange was persecuted for exposing war crimes." Punish Assange, punish the press. Punish Assange and condemn the Fourth Estate.

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About the Author

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He currently lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and blogs at Oz Moses.

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