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Assange’s treatment should be fair and humane

London demonstration   -  © Assange campaign

20 February 2020

Tim Dawson, NEC member

I recently journeyed to Belmarsh to join the regular demonstration against Julian Assange’s detention. His prison stands at a bleak traffic intersection on the unglamorous periphery of the vast London conurbation. The spirited crowd numbered no more than 40.

That Assange’s plight is not eliciting more concern among the UK’s journalists is troubling. If his deportation to the United States is successful, the implications for media freedom are profound.

The US Espionage Act, offences against which Assange is charged, is little tested. Indeed, no journalist or publisher in the US has ever been successfully prosecuted for the act of publication. Much of the legal process in this case also falls below minimum expectations of justice.

Assange has been denied regular access to his legal team. Meetings with his lawyers have been secretly recorded. He is in poor health, and, according to the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, he is the victim of psychological torture.

His successful deportation would significantly increase jeopardy of any reporter whose work touches on US security concerns. 'Annoy the US government and you lay yourself open to a judicial snatch squad' would be the clear message to the media.

This comes at a time when there is much to worry Britain’s media workers. Newsroom head counts continue to fall; prime minister Boris Johnson is disrupting the working practices of political reporters to favour his supporters; and, potentially detrimental funding changes loom over the BBC.

Of all of these, however, it is Assange’s deportation that has the most dramatic capacity to chill free speech.

True, the Australian has done himself few favours. He falls out with and denounces potential supporters. The Swedish charges (now dropped) and his response to them made many feel uneasy about his conduct. And, his enthusiasm for data dumping in place of curating information is, in the eyes of many, the antithesis of journalism. Questions arise too about the sources of his information and the possibility that he is a tool in a broader geopolitical game.

But see beyond these we must.

Journalists should join the clamour demanding that Assange’s treatment is fair, humane and consistent with the promotion of free expression. Fail at this, and will all be the losers.

Assange demo

The NUJ will assemble for the demonstration with the union's banner at 12 noon.

Tags: , julian assange, freedom of expression, espionage, espionage act, public interest, legal action, wikileaks