EDITORIAL

Passivity is complicity! Canberra is silent while Assange faces torture

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There’s a lot at stake being played out in the British courts as the United States persists with persecuting Julian Assange. The Australian citizen and journalist is charged in the U.S. under the Espionage Act for the “crime” of publishing information, a charge carrying a potential sentence of 175 years. The U.S. wants to extradite him.

Last December, the UK High Court overturned the earlier District Court decision, which had found in Assange’s favour. The new ruling, based on vague promises that Assange would be well treated in prison in the U.S., paves the way for extradition. In response, Assange’s team has lodged an appeal in the UK Supreme Court. 

End the impunity. In 2010 Wikileaks, headed by Assange, published a trove of material exposing U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. The most explosive was damning film footage showing a U.S. Apache helicopter aiming at, shooting and killing 11 Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists. 

While no one has been held accountable for this and other war crimes, Assange continues to pay the price. Faced with uncertainty, he remains detained in Belmarsh prison in London. It is a grim place: conditions are harsh and his health is visibly deteriorating. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, who visited Belmarsh with a medical team, says Assange displays “all the symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture.”

The U.S. wants a show trial to deter would-be whistleblowers speaking out about war crimes. With Australia, the UK and the U.S. forging their new military pact — AUKUS — truth-telling is needed to raise public knowledge about the barbarity of these countries’ military interventions.  

Back the truth-tellers. It is vital that the global movement to free Assange focus on the issues at the heart of this case — the right to expose and then publicise government incompetence, rorts, corruption and outright atrocities, and then demand the perpetrators be held accountable. The U.S. loves to trumpet itself as the home of democracy, but a web of state secrecy limits freedom of the press. The Australian government is also allergic to accountability, with Canberra performing contortions to prevent the establishment of an Integrity Commission with teeth! 

Scott Morrison’s government remains an indifferent bystander to the fate of Julian Assange. It has little to say on the matter, because when it comes to how Assange is being treated, Canberra has an identical approach to truth-telling whistleblowers — charge them, persecute them and do everything possible to try to shut them up! Australia was highly embarrassed when its spying on the parliament of Timor Leste to gain advantage in the Timor Gap treaty negotiations was made public. The courageous whistleblower, known only as Witness K, and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, continue to fight relentless persecution. 

The ongoing torment of Julian Assange must stop — free him immediately! Drop all charges against Witness K and Bernard Collaery now! End the web of secrecy concealing government crimes and build a movement to make governments accountable!

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