How far is a government willing to go to hold up press freedom?
Scientific journalism and a Whistleblower
In the past, there have been already a few people who brought certain things to light, which governments did not want to have the public to know it. Whistleblowers are a very important asset to secure that everything goes according to certain values and rules and according to democratic securities.
An Australian computer programmer practising what he called “scientific journalism” — i.e., providing primary source materials with a minimum of editorial commentary, caught the attention of the world the first time when news came out that somebody broke in into NASA and the Pentagon secure systems. At that time he used his hacking nickname “Mendax.”
Cybercrime and leaks
Considered a youth, in 1991 Australian authorities charged him with 31 counts of cybercrime; to which he pleaded guilty to most of them, but gave him, because of his age, only a small fine as punishment.
In 2006, under his own name, Julian Assange created WikiLeaks and posted his first message about a Somali rebel leader encouraging the use of hired gunmen to assassinate government officials. The document’s authenticity was never verified, but the story of WikiLeaks and questions regarding the ethics of its methods soon overshadowed it.
Disclosure of secret documents
For the Americans, the first problems arose when he placed details about the U.S. military’s detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, which overwhelmed us and showed us in horror inhuman things which should also be catalogued as war crimes.
Though, what got the American government to rise on its back legs was in 2010 when WikiLeaks posted almost half a million documents obtained from U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning (later called Chelsea Manning) — mainly relating to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From then on, Assange was a bird for the cat.
Two different worlds & violence against the truth
In Europe we could see how in the United States the public got totally different information than we could get in this old world. Sometimes it even looked like there were two different worlds at the same time evolving in a direction where news about wars frightened people, in different ways. From our backseat in the old world, we got more and more the impression that in the new world the rights of individuals were shrinking every day and that certain politicians were not afraid to do violence against the truth.
It became even more dangerous when they succeeded in getting the United Kingdom to do their bidding and make the rest of the world believe that Iraq had a lot of chemical and nuclear weapons that it was going to use to attack the Western world.
A Television channel taking the word
American television executive and media consultant Ailes in 2013
With the arrival of Fox News (Fox News Channel, abbreviated FNC) the Australian-American media mogul Rupert Murdoch got his foot on American soil, bringing The Sun stuf to the general American public. As the chairman and CEO of Fox News, Fox Television Stations and 20th Television, Roger Eugene Ailes was not afraid to show that all who did not want to go with him could go away. Not only manipulated he the women, but also politicians, even becoming a media consultant for Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, and for Rudy Giuliani‘s first mayoral campaign.
Ailes had a very good eye on what had to change in the American news gathering and knew very well how he had to reach the majority of people who normally would not read the newspapers and would not be interested in serious American politics analysation.
From personal computers to smartphones and social media
The TV4 and BBC HD satellite uplink DSNG using satellite trucks at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, Finland
The advent of personal computers and mobile phones and the development of the Internet brought about a massive, worldwide proliferation of systems and facilities for news gathering, publishing, broadcasting, holding meetings, and speechmaking. It was a big challenge for those who wanted to manipulate the general public and several politicians jumped on the bandwagon with help of ghostwriters and men like Ailes, who was not afraid to bring some twists to what really happened.
Ailes did not need to have the proof of research, that demonstrated repeatedly that most reactors attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to cope with severe communication overload by developing three mechanisms: selective attention, selective perception, and selective recall.
World of information
The world of information today has become too large, and we can not pay attention to everything that goes on. Therefore some knew to lure the public to get them to only a few media, making that the general citizen failed (often unconsciously) to perceive therein any large proportion of the messages that they find uncongenial; and, having perceived, even after this screening, a certain number of unpleasing messages, they repress these in whole or in part (i.e., cannot readily remember them). As such the contemporary propagandists found their way to manipulate the public and with politicians who claimed the press was telling all lies, they managed to get the general public on their hand and have them believe people like Donald Trump, who was really the man telling all the lies, but people thinking he was telling the only truth and nothing but the truth.
Persecution and Hunted Prey
Assange after bringing internal documents from the Scientology movement, in 2008, that group threatened suit on the grounds of copyright infringement. WikiLeaks responded by releasing thousands of Scientology documents.
In the same year wikileaks.org site was briefly shut down as a result of legal action in the United States, but mirrors of the site, registered in Belgium (wikileaks.be), Germany (wikileaks.de), and the Christmas Islands (wikileaks.cx), were unaffected.
In 2009 the site made news when it released a cache of internal e-mails from East Anglia University’s Climatic Research Unit. Global warming skeptics seized on “Climategate” as proof of a conspiracy to silence debate on the subject or conceal data.
In December 2010 wikileaks.org was forced off-line once again when the site’s domain name provider terminated its account in the wake of a series of distributed denial-of-service attacks; as with previous service interruptions, WikiLeaks remained available on mirror sites or by directly linking to its IP address. Days later Assange was arrested by British police on an outstanding Swedish warrant for alleged sex crimes.
Assange has been held in Belmarsh since April 2019 when he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He had spent seven increasingly surreal years there, after skipping bail to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. The charges were later dropped.
Assange has been described as “a useful idiot” for the Russians, referring to the leaking of Hillary Clinton’s private emails in 2016 which arguably aided Donald Trump’s run for the presidency.
“I love Wikileaks!”
Trump said at the time – but failed to pardon Assange at the close of his presidency.
Plots against Assange
On the 29th of October 2021 credible reports of CIA plots to assassinate or kidnap Julian Assange made it impossible to know what would happen if he were extradited to the United States, the Wikileaks founder’s lawyer told the High Court.
The central London court heard a second and final day of legal arguments in the US appeal against District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s decision in January not to extradite Mr Assange, citing a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide. Assange who is being held in Belmarsh prison, was reported to be too unwell to join proceedings even by video-link.
Representing the journalist, Edward Fitzgerald QC told the court that Mr Assange faced a “menacing, threatening and frightening” situation while under surveillance in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and that he was monitored “in co-operation with an American agency” during his time there.
He was responding to James Lewis QC, representing the US, who defended the proposal for extradition by stating that
“Mr Assange would have a cellmate, the average sentence for these crimes is only five years, and he would probably have his time in detention taken off his sentence.”
That day former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP, could also be found outside the court saying:
“Julian Assange should be released immediately. A monstrous injustice has been done to this man whose only crime is telling us the truth.”
We may not forget that certain matters brought forward by Mr. Assange, about the treatment of certain prisoners in the United States should bear our concerns and worries.
“In a different country he would be hailed as a whistleblower who told the truth about the dangers we are all facing, the dangers the whole world is facing,”
“I think we should bear witness to Julian’s bravery and his determination and demand … that he’s not removed under any circumstances to the United States, and … that he be released from Belmarsh so he can continue his life with his partner, with his children.”
The 11th of December 2021 the ruling of the court was a stark reverse of that handed down by then district judge Vanessa Baraitser in January, which found that Mr Assange’s extradition would be “oppressive” given his history of mental health issues.
But Lord Holroyde directed that the case should be returned to Westminster magistrates’ court, then pass to the secretary of state to order the extradition.
He described the assurances from the US as
“solemn undertakings made by one government to another.”
Speaking outside the court, then Mr Assange’s fiancee Stella Moris, shaking with rage and choking back tears, said the decision would be appealed in the Supreme Court at the earliest possible moment.
She dismissed the judge’s faith in US undertakings as “dangerous and misguided” and a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
“The assurances in which the court has placed its trust are inherently unenforceable,”
“Julian is the most important journalist of the past 50 years and this court wants to hand him over to the CIA, who we know plotted to kill him.
Representing Press freedom
“He represents press freedom — we must keep up the fight to free him.”
National Union of Journalists general secretary Michelle Stanistreet also condemned the ruling.
“For Julian Assange to be extradited to answer charges for cultivating a source and encouraging the revelation of criminality would be a hammer-blow to free expression,”
“Any journalist who thought they might upset a US administration will reasonably fear that they too could be targeted by a judicial snatch squad.
“When the freedom of our judiciary is under threat, it is disappointing that senior judges should buckle in the face of such unconvincing US blandishments.”
John Rees, of the Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign, is not giving up the battle to protect Mr Assange from extradition.
“I think it’s disappointing and surprising that the judges should have accepted the assurances of the US, when in court they heard the facts that the CIA were attempting to plot a kidnap or assassination of Julian Assange.”
“It seems unreasonable that you should accept assurances from them. But they did, and it means it will be appealed in the Supreme Court.
“These are very determined people — we are not going to let this stand. There’s a lot of legal road to run and the fight goes on.”
Amnesty International said the so-called assurances upon which the US government relies
“leave Mr Assange at risk of ill-treatment,” are “inherently unreliable” and “should be rejected.”
The human rights group concluded that the charges against Mr Assange are “politically motivated” and must be dropped.
Capitulation of the British legal system to US demands
For years the American government has put pressure on the British government to deliver Assange to them.
Advocacy groups said the decision to allow the extradition represents a complete capitulation of the British legal system to US demands.
Cage UK said that Mr Assange is a political prisoner of the “war on terror” and as such must be protected from the US witch hunt against him.
The campaign group’s managing director Muhammad Rabbani said:
“Assange’s crime is having the courage to hold the US to account.
“Should the Home Secretary now allow his extradition, it will forever be an indictment of the government’s betrayal of free speech, true journalistic investigation and accountability.
“The extradition is a political witch hunt against Assange for his attempts to check and expose the abuses of the US war on terror.”
He pointed to a recent speech by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in defence of political prisoners and said the US must demonstrate that this commitment is genuine by dropping its case against Mr Assange.
“We join the thousands of supporters of Julian Assange in condemning this judgement and demanding he is set free immediately,”
Mr Rabbani said.
At the beginning of January, to mark the 1,000 days that the WikiLeaks founder has spent in prison, supporters gathered outside Belmarsh prison in south-east London, where he was being held as the United States continued to attempt to extradite him.
His wife Stella Moris renewed her call for his release, noting that he has spent longer in Belmarsh than many prisoners sentenced for violent crimes.
“His young children, aged two and four, have no memory of their father outside the highest security prison of the UK.
Ms Moris said that as long as he remained in prison, Mr Assange would be a political prisoner, warning that his “indefinite incarceration” would kill him unless it was brought to an end.
“In those 1,000 days, Julian has been held in extraordinary isolation for part of the time, faced two Covid shutdowns and, in October, he suffered a stress-induced stroke during his latest hearing,”
What also does not seem alright is that his lawyers had only limited access to their client, which has undermined his defence.
Assange not being convicted of any crime is simply held at the request of the US government while they try to prove to UK courts that he should be extradited to face charges in America for revealing the truth about the Afghan and Iraq wars. Then one can wonder why the British government does not allow Mr. Assange to attend his own hearings or when he has been permitted to attend, his requests to sit next to his lawyers have also been refused.
“Every major civil liberties organisation, the National Union of Journalists, and MPs from every party have called for his freedom. It is long, long overdue that their voices were listened to.”
National Union of Journalists assistant secretary Seamus Dooley called Mr Assange’s continued incarceration
“a stain on the history of the UK.”
“The fact that Assange remains in prison under threat of extradition to the United States because of his role as a whistleblower is a cause of grave to all who cherish the right to freedom of expression.
Wall of silence. – Major news outlets failing to play their role
One would expect the press to properly inform the public about what is going on in the Julian Assange dossier.
Julian Assange would be free within days if the mass media ended its “deafening silence” over the persecution of the Wikileaks founder, a UN expert claimed February 19.
The Swiss academic, author, and practitioner in the field of international law, since 1 November 2016 serving as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Nils Melzer, accused major news outlets of failing to play their role as the “fourth estate” to inform the public about the implications of the case against Mr Assange on press freedom and the rule of law.
The UN official said he had previously believed the press would “jump on” evidence pointing to
“political persecution and gross judicial arbitrariness”
in the case. But instead he has faced a
“wall of silence.”
“This man has become so untouchable because of the narrative that has been created, but there is no evidence of that,”
Mr Melzer told a media briefing organised by the Foreign Press Association on the release of his new book The Trial of Julian Assange.
“[The press] are not able to play their role as the fourth estate and inform the public about due process violations that are being played here behind the curtains. That really what I found is extremely concerning.”
War & need to stand up for free speech, the right to challenge authority and to express unpopular opinions
The Supreme Court’s rejection of Assange his appeal bid in March, was grim news for the journalist whose Wikileaks organisation has done more to expose war crimes than any other media outlet this century.
The ruling made several people think that our governments are telling lies to us about war, just as relentlessly as the Kremlin does to its citizens, while our major media outlets seldom challenge official narratives, especially on foreign policy.
The airwaves are now full of the horror being inflicted on Ukrainians by Russian bombers and artillery. So we should think back to the content of the Afghan and Iraq war logs published by Wikileaks.
The horrendous civilian death toll from US bombings in Afghanistan. Cockpit camera footage showing US helicopter pilots laughing as they machine-gunned unarmed civilians in Iraq.
The victims of US war crimes are no less worthy of the world’s attention than Russia’s. Those who have helped expose those crimes are as deserving of protection.
Yet the British state has engaged in a sustained campaign to break Julian Assange.
It has held him in conditions amounting to torture. It imprisoned him for skipping bail though the charges he had originally faced had long since been dropped.
There has rarely been a greater need to stand up for free speech, the right to challenge authority and to express unpopular opinions. To question the huge power of privately owned comms platforms to censor and silence.
Accusations by Boris Johnson
Earlier this year Boris Johnson caused uproar when he accused Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer of
“prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”
while director of public prosecutions.
Establishment outrage at the reference to Savile extended to resignations from the Prime Minister’s own team. It was widely echoed on the left.
The sheer hypocrisy of a Conservative trying to tar Labour with complicity in the notorious paedophile’s lifelong impunity stuck in the throat, given Savile’s close ties to top Tories including Margaret Thatcher herself.
Far less attention was paid to the first part of Johnson’s accusation — though it was just as hypocritical. The PM is believed to have been referring to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and Starmer’s infamous injunction to Swedish prosecutors not to get “cold feet” over seeking his arrest.
But if Starmer’s behaviour was shameful, the persecution of Assange has been a political choice by Conservative governments.
Priti Sushil Patel, British politician who has served as Home Secretary since 2019 and was Secretary of State for International Development from 2016 to 2017.
That reality can no longer be masked now Assange’s case has been passed to the Thatcherite Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Starmer tries to ban support for the Stop the War Coalition — organiser of the largest march in British history, the February 15 2003 demonstration against the invasion of Iraq — on the grounds that it posits a “false equivalence” between Russian aggression and the behaviour of Nato.
Reports of war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine are used to portray its armies as uniquely evil (though a report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) acknowledged that there is also evidence of war crimes by Ukrainian troops).
After the shocking bombing of a hospital in Mariupol, a BBC reporter stated that
“this is what the Russians do,”
pointing to bombings in Syria as evidence. Though over there, like in Georgia and Chechnya the Russians could do such war crimes without being penalized by the west.
Much too often the countries where people live in full comfort, their governments do not want to upset them too much by what wars really do. They also do not want to know how such killings are often made possible by them, making money by selling the tools to kill. As such we can find Saudis who bomb hospitals in Yemen, with British equipment and logistical support. They silenced the news that the French bombed weddings in Mali. The Australians murdered prisoners in Afghanistan. According to the International Criminal Court prosecutor looking into British behaviour in Iraq, there was a “reasonable basis” for believing that British troops were involved in the willful killing, torture, rape and a range of other crimes.
Punished for the role in exposing crime
Assange is being punished for his role in exposing crimes like these. For holding a mirror up to Western powers whose record of savagery is as grim as anything their rivals are accused of.
Their response is to try to lock him up permanently while all the power of the digital monopolies is brought to bear to silence anti-Establishment voices and criticism of Western foreign policy.
That’s why the cause of Assange is now the cause of peace, as well as of free speech. Causes under threat in a world that is getting dark.
Giving in to US government’s demand
Friday, June 20, secretary Priti Patel agreed to the US government’s demand that Julian Assange be extradited to face a trial which could land him with a 175-year prison sentence.
This decision can be seen as a Tory attempt to silence critical journalistic voices, which is what the assault on Julian Assange is intended to do, and goes hand in hand with the attempts to stifle effective political protests, to further tighten what are already the most restrictive anti-trade union laws in Europe, to alter the voter registration process to effectively exclude poor and marginalised voters, and to beef up an already draconian Official Secrets Act (OSA).
For Assange’s South African born dark-haired wife, Stella (39), who lives with her two children in West London, Patel’s decision was the latest blow in a relationship that, by any standards, has been extraordinary.
She admired what he’d done with WikiLeaks;
I thought it was extraordinary and transformative and it was very clear to me that, despite all the public exposure he’d had, he was, in fact, in a vulnerable situation.”
In a way, she felt protective of him because she found that man could need all the help he could get. For much of the 11 years she has been involved with Assange he has been in a condition of captivity – self-imposed as it was at the Ecuadorian embassy, where their two children, aged three and five, were conceived; and in Belmarsh, where the couple married in March. For her Assange’s case is
“a travesty of justice.”
On July 3, to mark Assange’s 51st birthday, campaigners, including his father John Shipton, drove in an open-top Routemaster bus, emblazoned with the slogan:
Now a documentary, Ithaka: A Father, A Family, A Fight for Justice, co-produced by Assange’s half-brother Gabriel Shipton, is being released, chronicling Assange’s fight against extradition through the eyes of his wife and 75-year-old father.
It was good to see that at last, when Patel’s decision was made public, the mainstream press came to realise that there is a fundamental threat to freedom of expression at stake in the Assange case. Most of the print press is now sympathetic, including the Mail and the Telegraph, although not the Sun (which seems logical, when we look at its policies and manner of presenting news). The broadcast media, including the BBC, is at least providing more coverage, and more balanced coverage, than it has in the past.
Unions also need to speak up
It gave also some hope now other voices also came to be heard.
As unions rallied for the first national TUC demonstration in years, we must see clearly that the government’s attacks on democracy are aimed at suppressing the labour movement — and that the state persecution of Assange is part of that attack on democracy.
Those having leading positions are not willing to give in to the requests of the public to share their gains and do not want them to come to see in what they are involved as well, which brings in, some pocket money too.
People should see, how we have come into a situation where the British government its answer is repression.
Legislation to imprison protesters for up to 10 years if the police deem their protest a “serious nuisance.” New powers to stop and search, extended use of tasers. The bans on unauthorised gatherings will be used to arrest pickets if the employer complains they are causing “serious disruption.
The monopoly media bombarded socialist-led Labour with lies and smears for five years until it went down to defeat in 2019. Now it is used to demonise trade unionists and misrepresent strikes, just as it is being used to demonise asylum-seekers and promote the government’s appalling attack on refugee rights.
Easy excuse & shutting down critical voices
In several countries, we now see that governments are conveniently using it to blame all their difficulties on the war in Ukraine. With the political leaders, the elite has seized on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to further entrench their total media dominance.
A crackdown on “disinformation” is an excuse for the handful of digital giants — Google, Facebook, YouTube — to shut down critical voices and platforms on a vast scale.
In British politics, the “Russia threat” is used to attack the peace movement and narrow still further the range of acceptable political views, to those who question nothing of significance about our state, our foreign policy or our economic system.
There are in high echelons who claim that there is no comparison between what is happening now and what was brought out by Assange.
It is not convenient for those who claim there is “no equivalence” between Nato and Russia that WikiLeaks has published thousands of documents detailing war crimes, the massacre of civilians, murder by drone, the extrajudicial killing of prisoners by the United States and its allies in multiple recent wars.
For those who wish to hold on to power, journalists should be more careful about what they release to the general public. They must realise that what should not see the light of day, will not be tolerated to be uncovered by journalists. Therefore, Assange must be set as an example to the whole world so that it is made aware of what can happen to them if they start stirring the pot too deeply.
It’s a warning to all journalists of whatever country. It will cow journalism everywhere and help the powerful to cover up their crimes. It is a step along the path of absolute ‘Establishment control’ of the narratives we are permitted to watch, read and listen to.
It must be stopped.
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