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Assange's Unlawful Detention Ruling Puts UK in the Dock, by Mark John Maguire

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The UN legal ruling concerning the unlawful detention of Julian Assange has embarrassed the UK by placing it alongside Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Egypt as an abuser of human rights. Aside from undermining the UK's already wafer-thin moral reputation, which has been eroded by a catalogue of misdemeanours including its assistance with the US's "Rendition" programme, it has presented the UK with a new problem: it can no longer claim to be simply following the rule of international law when its actions have been declared unlawful by an authority which it has been at pains to support.
Assange on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London has been ruled by the UN to be unlawfully detained by the UK
Assange on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London has been ruled by the UN to be unlawfully detained by the UK
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There are moments in any age which come to define its preoccupations, which act as a weathervane for political currents and for the relationships between governments and those they represent. This is such a moment in our time. When the State becomes larger than the sum of its citizens, and the avarice and personal needs of the few threaten to swamp the general interest and equality of the populace, we commonly see the emergence of awkward, non-compliant figures who challenge the status quo - and pay a heavy price as a consequence. It is in this context we see Martin Luther King's resistance as a challenge to an oppressive white dominance in the US.
We see the same struggle, in parallel, in the long imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. The struggle for liberty amongst economically, politically or culturally oppressed peoples in all its varying shades, seems to focus on a few individuals, who are condemned by those they challenge as terrorists, sexual offenders or criminals. It is a situation that MLK would recognise as readily as Mandela or Ghandi.
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The ad hominem attack is the weapon of choice for those seeking to preserve the status quo and it is - at least temporarily - an effective weapon that resonates with large numbers of the populace, diminishing support for those it is used against. Accusations of sexual misconduct are a popular means of discrediting individuals because they appeal to powerful social taboos that are present in us all. Those who have followed the Assange case sympathetically for the past 6 years will recognise the symptoms of willful State malice against any individual who exposes political, military or administrative wrongdoing by the US and its allies.
The Assange affair fits into this context and along with the Edward Snowden case and a host of less well publicised ones represents a challenge to government control of the public narrative - after all, Assange's offence, like Snowden's, has been to tell the people what their governments are doing. Assange has made it the driving principle of his Wikileaks organisation to expose wrongdoing by governments to the glare of public scrutiny - in effect, to the people whose right it is to know what those who purport to act on their behalf are doing in their name. He has paid a heavy price - 6 years in detention and counting: so did Mandela; so did Dr King: many more have and will continue to do so in their attempts to expose incompetent, corrupt or malign government.
That is why the stakes in the Assange affair are high and why he is being pursued in such an extraordinary way by the US, UK and Sweden. The facts of the case are not really in dispute and do not seem to provide the locus of the issue: Assange was accused of sexual misdemeanours which were subsequently dropped. The complainants and the Swedish Government changed their minds regarding the matter, for reasons never clarified. In both these critical circumstances, minds were changed on fundamental issues with far-reaching effects.
Without recourse to new evidence and with a good deal of obfuscation in the matter, the focus of attention is naturally diverted from the alleged offence to its narrative and context - and to the actions of the Swedish and UK governments. Assange has argued that the matter is a thinly disguised attempt to extradite him to the US. Assange's concerns seem reasonable: the US has a history of subverting governments to its will: 2 years ago the Austrian government grounded a plane carrying the Bolivian President at the US's behest, so that it could search for Edward Snowden - also seeking asylum from US political wrath. It seems entirely plausible to suppose that if the US could persuade Spain to refuse the Bolivian President the use of its airspace and Austria to detain its President - then it would have little difficulty in persuading the Swedish government to change their minds. If we can entertain such ideas, then it is a short leap to accept the notion that the real objective here is not to make a charge against Assange stick, but to provide a route by which he can be extradited to the US - to an uncertain fate.
The Assange affair is a seminal moment in the present struggle between government's right to govern and the people's right to know. The UN's legal ruling may have no direct effect in British law but it hardly matters: its moral effect carries weight: the UK is in no position to criticise the human rights of other nations when it is in defiance of a body whom it routinely supports as a legal arbiter on matters of detention.
The UK is exposed to charges of hypocrisy today and if it continues to detain Mr Assange unlawfully, then it exposes itself to further damage. Should Ecuador, strengthened by the UN's ruling, submit the matter of his denial of safe passage to the International Criminal Court, then the UK's situation will become an unhappy one indeed. It is imperative now, that the steps necessary to unpick this situation be taken in concert with the Swedish authorities to bring this embarrassing saga to an end. It is a sorry spectacle, figuratively speaking, to see the UK in the same Dock as Saudi Arabia as a co-defendent on human rights abuses.

(Article changed on February 6, 2016 at 10:35)

(Article changed on February 6, 2016 at 10:51)

 

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I was educated at the University of Manchester, Swansea University and the Polytechnic of Wales, where I studied History, Philosophy and Intellectual and Art History (MA). I have lived and worked in Ireland, Germany and Holland and the UK as a (more...)
 

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