One of the epic
miscarriages of justice of our time is unravelling. The United Nations Working
Group on Arbitrary Detention -- -- the international tribunal that adjudicates
and decides whether governments comply with their human rights obligations --
has ruled that Julian Assange has been detained unlawfully by Britain and
After five years of
fighting to clear his name -- having been smeared relentlessly yet charged with
no crime -- Assange is closer to justice and vindication, and perhaps freedom,
than at any time since he was arrested and held in London under a European
Extradition Warrant, itself now discredited by Parliament.
The UN Working
Group bases its judgments on the European Convention on Human Rights and three
other treaties that are binding on all its signatories. Both Britain and Sweden
participated in the 16-month long UN investigation and submitted evidence and
defended their position before the tribunal. It would fly contemptuously in the
face of international law if they did not comply with the judgement and allow
Assange to leave the refuge granted him by the Ecuadorean government in its
In previous, celebrated cases ruled
upon by the Working Group -- Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned opposition
leader Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, detained Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian
in Iran, both Britain and Sweden have given support to the tribunal. The
difference now is that Assange's persecution and confinement endures in the
heart of London.
The Assange case has never been
primarily about allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden -- where the
Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the case, saying, "I don't
believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape," and one of
the women involved accused the police of fabricating evidence and "railroading"
her, protesting she "did not want to accuse JA of anything" -- and a second
prosecutor mysteriously re-opened the case after political intervention, then
The Assange case is rooted across the
Atlantic in Pentagon-dominated Washington, obsessed with pursuing and
prosecuting whistleblowers, especially Assange for having exposed, in WikiLeaks,
US capital crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of civilians
and a contempt for sovereignty and international law. None of this
truth-telling is illegal under the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate
in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistleblowers
as "part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal."
Obama, the betrayer, has since
prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the US presidents combined. The
courageous Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years in prison, having been tortured
during her long pre-trial detention.
The prospect of a similar fate has
hung over Assange like a Damocles sword. According to documents released by
Edward Snowden, Assange is on a "Manhunt target list." Vice-President Joe Biden
has called him a "cyber terrorist."
In Alexandria, Virginia, a secret grand jury
has attempted to concoct a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted in a court.
Even though he is not an American, he is currently being fitted up with an
espionage law dredged up from a century ago when it was used to silence
conscientious objectors during the First World War; the Espionage Act has
provisions of both life imprisonment and the death penalty.
Assange's ability to defend himself
in this Kafkaesque world has been handicapped by the US declaring his case a
state secret. A federal court has blocked the release of all information about
what is known as the "national security" investigation of WikiLeaks.
The supporting act in this charade
has been played by the second Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny. Until recently,
Ny had refused to comply with a routine European procedure that required her to
travel to London to question Assange and so advance the case that James Catlin,
one of Assange's barristers, called "a laughing stock ... it's as if they make
it up as they go along."
Indeed, even before Assange had left Sweden for London
in 2010, Marianne Ny made no attempt to question him. In the years since, she
has never properly explained, even to her own judicial authorities, why she has
not completed the case she so enthusiastically re-ignited -- just as the she has
never explained why she has refused to give Assange a guarantee that he will not
be extradited on to the US under a secret arrangement agreed between Stockholm
and Washington. In 2010, the Independent in London revealed that the
two governments had discussed Assange's onward extradition.
Then there is tiny, brave Ecuador.
One of the reasons Ecuador granted Julian Assange political asylum was that his
own government, in Australia, had offered him none of the help to which he had a
legal right and so abandoned him. Australia's collusion with the United States
against its own citizen is evident in leaked documents; no more faithful vassals
has America than the obeisant politicians of the Antipodes.
Four years ago, in Sydney, I spent
several hours with the Liberal Member of the Federal Parliament, Malcolm
Turnbull. We discussed the threats to Assange and their wider implications for
freedom of speech and justice, and why Australia was obliged to stand by him.
Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia and, as I write, is attending an
international conference on Syria hosted the Cameron government -- about 15
minutes' cab ride from the room that Julian Assange has occupied for three and a
half years in the small Ecuadorean embassy just along from Harrod's.
connection is relevant if unreported; it was WikiLeaks that revealed that the
United States had long planned to overthrow the Assad government in Syria.
Today, as he meets and greets, Prime Minister Turnbull has an opportunity to
contribute a modicum of purpose and truth to the conference by speaking up for
his unjustly imprisoned compatriot, for whom he showed such concern when we
met. All he need do is quote the judgement of the UN Working Party on Arbitrary
Detention. Will he reclaim this shred of Australia's reputation in the decent
What is certain is that the decent
world owes much to Julian Assange. He told us how indecent power behaves in
secret, how it lies and manipulates and engages in great acts of violence,
sustaining wars that kill and maim and turn millions into the refugees now in
the news. Telling us this truth alone earns Assange his freedom, whereas justice
is his right.
John Pilger grew up in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, author and documentary film-maker. He is one of only two to win British journalism's highest award twice, for his work all over the world. On 1 November, he was awarded (more...