12November2019

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Stockholm Syndrome – Julian Assange And The Limits Of Guardian Dissent

Nothing happened on September 2 in central London. Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, did not initiate a protest outside the Home Office. He did not sing and play the Floyd classic 'Wish You Were Here', or say:

'Julian Assange, we are with you. Free Julian Assange!'

The renowned journalist and film-maker John Pilger did not say:

'The behaviour of the British government towards Julian Assange is a disgrace - a profanity on the very notion of human rights.

'It's no exaggeration to say that the persecution of Julian Assange is the way dictatorships treat a political prisoner.'

None of this happened for any major UK or US newspaper, which made no mention of these events at all. Readers of Prensa Latina, Havana, were more fortunate with two articles before and after the event, as were readers of Asian News International in New Delhi. Coverage was also provided by Ireland's Irish Examiner (circulation 25,419) in Cork, which published a Press Association piece that was available to the innumerable other outlets that all chose to ignore it.

Four months after he was dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange is still locked up in solitary confinement for 21 hours a day or more. He is still being denied the basic tools to prepare his case against a demand for extradition to the United States where he faces incarceration and torture. He is not allowed to call his US lawyers, is not allowed access to vital documents, or even a computer. He is confined to a single cell in the hospital wing, where he is isolated from other people. Pilger commented at the protest:

'There is one reason for this. Julian and WikiLeaks have performed an historic public service by giving millions of people facts on why and how their governments deceive them, secretly and often illegally: why they invade countries, why they spy on us.

'Julian is singled out for special treatment for one reason only: he is a truth-teller. His case is meant to send a warning to every journalist and every publisher, the kind of warning that has no place in a democracy.'

On the Sydney Criminal Lawyers website, journalist Paul Gregoire discussed Assange's declining health with his father, John Shipton, who said:

'His health is not good. He's lost about 15 kilos in weight now – five since I last saw him. And he's in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day, in the hospital ward of the gaol.'

Gregoire responded:

'As you've just explained, Julian is being held in quite extreme conditions. He's isolated from other inmates. And as well, his visits are restricted and so are his communications with his legal representation. Yet, he's only being held for breach of bail, which is a rather minor charge.'

'Yes, very minor.'

'How are the UK authorities justifying the restrictions around his imprisonment seeing he's being incarcerated on such a minor offence?'

'I don't know if they feel the necessity to justify these decisions. Their decisions are arbitrary.'

'So, they're giving no explanation as to his treatment.'

'No.'

It does seem extraordinary, in fact medieval, for such brutal treatment to be meted out to someone for merely breaching bail, with almost zero 'mainstream' political or media protest. This is only one reason, of course, why the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, penned an article titled, 'Demasking the Torture of Julian Assange'. Melzer commented:

'What may look like mere mudslinging in public debate, quickly becomes "mobbing" when used against the defenseless, and even "persecution" once the State is involved. Now just add purposefulness and severe suffering, and what you get is full-fledged psychological torture.'

Investigative journalist Peter Oborne courageously challenged conventional wisdom on Assange this month in a British Journalism Review piece titled, 'He is a hero, not a villain'. Oborne described how, in July, the Mail on Sunday had published a front-page story revealing the contents of diplomatic telegrams – 'DipTels' – sent to London by the British ambassador to the US. The memos described President Trump's administration as 'inept' and Trump himself as 'uniquely dysfunctional'.

'All hell broke loose. The May government announced an official leak inquiry. The Metropolitan Police launched a criminal investigation. The intelligence services got involved.

'The Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu warned the press not to publish any further documents as this could "constitute a criminal offence". The Mail on Sunday paid no attention. It published further leaks and other papers came to its support. So did politicians. Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were among those who criticised Basu's comments.

'Hunt, who was then foreign secretary, said: "I defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they receive them and judge them to be in the public interest...'

'Meanwhile, that leaker-in-chief Julian Assange continued to languish in Belmarsh prison, where he is serving 50 weeks for skipping bail...

'Julian Assange is a controversial figure, to be sure. Many of those who have dealt with him have found him difficult. But I find myself wondering what exactly the difference is between his alleged crime of publishing leaked US diplomatic cables and the Mail on Sunday's offence of publishing leaked Foreign Office cables.

'Why is Assange treated by the bulk of the British media as a pariah? And the Mail on Sunday as a doughty defender of press freedom? After all, Julian Assange is responsible for breaking more stories than all the rest of us put together.'

Oborne commented:

'This looks to me like a monstrous case of double standards, even by the ocean-going standards of Britain's media/political class.'

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