Julian Assange is free at last!

Our press was never truly free, and today it is more incarcerated than ever.

It is notable that British media consistently failed to defend the freedom of the press in the Assange case. They consistently failed to report his court appearances in any detail or to comment on the weaknesses of the prosecution case and the lawfare manoeuvring of the British state. Indeed, most of them are still repeating the false claim that Assange’s revelations put innocent lives at risk. The NUJ was not present at any public mobilisation of support for Julian, and Britain’s wider union movement totally failed in its duty to mobilise the working class to demand his release.

On 24 June 2024, Julian Assange was at last freed from the notorious British punishment jail, HMP Belmarsh, following a plea bargain deal made with the US authorities.

It was agreed that he would be freed in return for pleading guilty to one of the lesser charges levied against him – conspiracy to obtain and publish classified information – for which he would receive a sentence equivalent in length to the time he had been locked up in Belmarsh. Because he had already served this sentence, he would be released.

Mr Assange could not be persuaded to go to mainland US territory, but did agree to appear before a US court in Saipan (a Pacific island in Micronesia close to Australia commandeered by the USA since defeating its Japanese occupiers in World War 2), where he was to be sentenced and then freed to be returned to his native land of Australia.

For once, the United States kept to the terms of its agreement, and on 27 June Julian made a triumphant return to the country of his birth – a free man at last after more than 11 years.

Long years of imprisonment and torture the reward for honesty in journalism

Great though our joy is to see Mr Assange restored to his family and friends, it must not be forgotten that he, an innocent man whose only ‘crime’ was to expose US imperialist war crimes, has been subjected to long years of imprisonment and torture via an outrageous manipulation of legal and penal processes, that have severely damaged his health and robbed him of over a decade of the best years of his life:

“It is worth pausing for a moment to consider all that Assange has been through … He spent 1,901 days in a small cell in Britain’s notorious Belmarsh prison and, according to WikiLeaks, was ‘isolated 23 hours a day’ …

“Make no mistake. Assange might not have been beaten up or had his fingernails ripped out, but extended confinement with an uncertain future is its own particular kind of excruciating torture. Belmarsh came after Assange had already spent almost seven years seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.” (My own prison ordeal gave me a taste of what Assange may be feeling. He’s out – but the chilling effect on press freedom remains by Peter Greste, The Conversation, 25 June 2024)

The article cited above unfortunately repeated slanders to the effect that the information Assange and WikiLeaks had published put innocent people in danger. In fact, it has been clearly established that it did nothing of the kind. An associate of his was instrumental in making available without permission information that Assange carefully redacted before publishing. That associate has never been pursued by the USA, whose only concern has been that its war crimes have been exposed to public view.

Bourgeois dictatorship exposed

Assange has now done more than expose imperialist war crimes. His victimisation has exposed the ugly face of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, ripping away its mask of democratic government, adherence to the ‘rule of law’, respect for ‘human rights’, etc.

It has drawn attention to the cruelty of the prison system in both the USA and Britain; it has proved the complete contempt that the bourgeoisie of both countries have for even their own laws insofar as they rode roughshod over the US-UK extradition treaty, which specifically excludes extradition for political offences. It also rode roughshod over the US constitution’s first amendment, which is supposed to guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but was claimed to be ‘inapplicable’ in Julian’s case because he was not a US citizen.

It showed that ‘human rights’ have no meaning where jail sentences of 175 years, such as Julian was threatened with, are considered acceptable. Releasing Julian at this late stage will not be enough to pop the mask back into place now that the reality has been exposed so forcibly to view for such an extended period of time.

Where imperialism may have had some success is in terrorising the journalist fraternity into even more abject subservience than before. There have always been plenty of safeguards in place to ensure that journalists almost invariably toe the line. You go out on a limb; you lose your job.

Remember Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter who received information from government scientist David Kelly in 2003? This showed that prime minister Tony Blair had ‘sexed up’ a dodgy dossier claiming Iraq could launch an attack with weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes’ notice. But when Gilligan repeated this information on Radio 4’s Today programme, he was sacked (made to resign) on the spot.

David Kelly then ‘committed suicide’ in highly suspicious circumstances. However, Gilligan was vindicated and went on to have a highly successful career in journalism. Not many journalists, however, are going to be prepared to risk going through what Assange has gone through in the interests of their moment of glory!

In fact, it is notable that the bourgeois media both in Britain and the USA have been more than subdued in their support for the freedom of the press in the Assange case. By and large, they have not reported his various court appearances in any detail or commented on the weaknesses of the prosecution case as shown up in court.

Indeed, most of them are still repeating the false claim that Assange’s revelations put innocent lives at risk. The National Union of Journalists has not been present at any public mobilisation of support for Julian. Our press was never truly free, and today it is more incarcerated than ever.

Julian Assange, however, represents a beacon of hope – that there are still people in this world with courage and integrity who are prepared to fight for truth and justice, no matter what. He is a shining example of the very best in journalism and in humanity.

We salute him and we wish him and his family all the very best for the future.