Reviews | Assange’s extradition to UK mocks ‘World Press Freedom Day’
British politicians will mark World Press Freedom Day next week by discuss the safety of journalists and the importance of freedom of expression without any sense of irony.
But if you want to know how much the government really values a free press, you don’t have to look far. There is a war on journalism.
Yet today, Priti Patel has approved the extradition of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange in the USA. If found guilty, he could be imprisoned for 175 years.
This is not just an attack on Assange, it has alarming implications for investigative journalism in the UK. And this is part of a war of aggression that Boris Johnson’s government is waging against the free press.
The extradition order follows a long and bitter fight for revenge after Assange exposed US war crimes. He proven that children had been executed in cold blood by American troops and that the authorities had kept secret the number of civilians killed.
Also WikiLeaks posted a heartbreaking video which showed US Apache helicopters launching an unprovoked attack on innocent civilians, including two Reuters journalists. and documents revealed how the US military had consistently ignored the torture of civilians by Iraqi authorities.
Since then, those in power have wanted to get their hands on Assange. Their anger is so enraged that even CIA officials plotted to kidnap or assassinate the publisher in the streets of London.
The “Witch Hunt”
The list of offenses Assange is now accused of having “unauthorized possession” of secret documents and of “publishing them on the Internet”. This is nothing less than a description of investigative journalism – and it will have a chilling effect on the free press.
Some now claim that Assange is not a journalist, but he was certainly considered one at the time. When WikiLeaks started publishing classified information, almost every UK newspaper described Assange as a “journalist” or “editor”. WikiLeaks worked with the Guardian and the New York Times to publish the revelations from the leaked documents.
This continued even after Assange was the first accused of sex crimes in Sweden (expenses which have been fall at the end of the limitation period): the guardian condemned the “witch hunt” against him and accused some critics of being hypocrites. And in America, the New York Times acted as an intermediary when Assange wanted to get in touch with the White House.
The judicial process to extradite Assange has been long and complicated, and has been subject to accusations of bias.
The extradition was signed by the High Court by Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett. He is a “good friend” of Alan Duncan, the former Conservative minister responsible for organizing the expulsion from the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2019, where he was trying to avoid arrest. Duncan had previously called Assange a “wretched little worm”.
Meanwhile, one of the main witnesses against Assange turned out to be a convict pedophile who has since been jailed in Iceland’s most secure prison after being branded a “sociopath” in court.
The War on Journalism
The UK’s efforts to help imprison Assange are part of a wider agenda undermining press freedom.
MPs are currently debating a new ‘national security’ law that could criminalize a lot of investigative journalism while granting immunity to ministers for their involvement in war crimes. The government wants it illegal for journalists to reveal “restricted” official information if they or their organization have ever received funding from a foreign government.
The government also plans to revise the Official Secrets Act, removing the “public interest defense” for journalists who published leaked documents. Senior journalists have condemned the decision as a “menacing threat to freedom of expression“.
And the proposed Online Safety Bill, which would require social media companies to remove harmful content, could inadvertently target legitimate journalism on sensitive subjects, we have been warned.
When we at openDemocracy campaigns against government secrecy, Conservative minister Michael Gove has attacked our journalism, calling it ‘ridiculous and biased’ – until we win a historic legal victory against him.
Last year, a freelance photographer was stopped after taking pictures of a protest at a Kent asylum camp.
And a government minister was criticized for attack a journalist on Twitteraccusing him of “inventing allegations”.
Britain also doesn’t seem to care much about the state of the free press among its international allies.
In May, Israeli forces shot and killed a veteran journalist with a bullet allegedly made in the USA. Even at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, the police attacked the porters, causing them to nearly drop the coffin. The UK government has called for an independent inquiry into his death, but has said little else on the matter.
MPs will line up on Tuesday to say how much they value press freedom (even though World Press Freedom Day did in fact take place in May). The event is meant to act as “a reminder to governments of the need to uphold their commitment to press freedom“.
But if you want to know how much the government really values a free press, you don’t have to look far. There is a war on journalism. This is why here at openDemocracy we are working hard to end these attacks on media freedom. And we need your helptoo.