Arrest of Julian Assange

Photosource: npr.org

By Naveed Qazi, Editor | Globe Up Front


A handcuffed and dishevelled Julian Assange was dragged out of Ecuadorian embassy in London, after seven years of confinement. 

The footage showed him heavily bearded, and his silver coloured hair tied to his back. He had shouted, “UK must resist”, before officers escorted him into a police van. Before the arrest, Assange had barged past the police officers, returning to his private room, and had commented before them: 'this is unlawful'.

The Ecuadorian government had offered him asylum, after a diplomatic row with the US Government, over an alleged cable, reflecting widespread corruption within the Ecuadorian police force.

The Wikileaks founder had reached the tenure limit of his asylum, since June 2012, and had invited metropolitan police officers inside the embassy premises, to avoid being extradited to Sweden, in connection with sexual assault allegations against him. He was then transferred to Belmarsh Prison in London. As per Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, Assange will receive some consular advice, but won't be given any special treatment. Assange’s father, John Shipton, who lives in Melbourne, has requested Scott Morrison, to bring his son back to Australia, 'for some fresh air and a chance to consider what he’s done.'

After his arrest, some other stories also appeared about the 47-year-old, Australian citizen, violating his bail conditions. He has now been found guilty of failing to surrender and faces a charge of upto twelve months in a British prison.

He was arrested on a US extradition warrant, but it has also generated a worldwide fury, where his arrest is deemed as an attack on press freedom, and it's right to publish freely. However, according to Ecuador’s President, Lenin Moreno, Assange used the embassy as a centre for spying on other countries, and alleged that Assange’s behaviour, inside the embassy, was questionable, as he insulted the staff, had brawls with the embassy security officials, and accused the embassy authorities of spying on him.

However, Moreno’s statements have been taken in a hostile manner in Ecuador. Rafael Correa, his one-time political ally, called him “ the greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history”. But, many also say that Moreno’s recent statement is a reprisal against Wikileaks alleged document leaks, which claimed his brother had started an offshore company, that included private pictures of Moreno and his family.

According to letters seen by the Guardian, Ecuador president Lenin Moreno, was assured by British foreign secretaries, that Julian Assange would not be extradited to a country, where he could face a death penalty. These official assurances actually converge with the British legislation law. These letters were signed on 7 March 2018 and 10 August 2018, respectively.

The letters read: “you have expressed concern that, should Julian Assange be extradited from the UK, there would be a risk that he could be subject to the death penalty. I can confirm that under UK law, a person’s extradition cannot be ordered if the person concerned will be subject to the death penalty.”

Julian Assange is charged by the US with a conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, and may face five years in prison, if convicted, and may also face additional charges. 

The US is actively seeking his arrest over allegations of conspiring with former US military analyst, Chelsea Manning, now in prison, after a 22-year-old intelligence analyst, Adrian Lamo informed the FBI, and the US army, about her alleged claims.

Assange had allegedly assisted Manning in cracking a password, to download material from Pentagon computers, which the US Justice Department has called “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of The United States.” Some of the selected material from Wikileaks was even published by the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, El Pais and Der Spiegel.

Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, told BBC that the conviction of his client sets a ‘dangerous precedent’ that should concern ‘free speech advocates’. Barry Pollack, a US lawyer for Assange, criticised the arrest, and said that Assange would need medical treatment, that he has been denied for seven years. 

A group of doctors believe that the pain and suffering inflicted on Assange, is both physical and psychological, and is in violation of the 1984 Convention Against Torture protocols.

Although Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister welcomed the arrest, Jeremy Corbyn, who heads the UK Labour Party, in opposition, condemned his arrest. It also brings important arguments into foray: should Julian Assange be regarded as a criminal or a hero? Some people question whether he should be regarded as a journalist, a hacker, a whistleblower, or something else. Personally, he has denied calling himself to be a journalist, and rather calls himself as an ‘information activist’. And then, also comes the conspiracy mongering, such as his support for provocative individuals, living in the West, such as Holocaust denier, Israel Shamir.

Wikileaks believes that under the current scenario, there is a conspiracy hatched by powerful actors, including the CIA, to ‘dehumanise’, ‘delegitimise’ and ‘imprison’ Assange. As per Edward Snowden, who has been linked with Wikileaks, and had earlier criticised leaking of Pentagon documents, believes that as Ecuador recently got a $4.2 billion aid from International Monetary Fund, it was a sign that the country was getting close to the west, and for this reason, the country was adamant, in handling over Assange, to the US authorities. He also criticised people, who started hating Assange, after the 2016 US election.

Snowden believes Assange’s work had ‘profound public interest’, that included leaking information such as the Democratic Party’s leanings for Hillary Clinton, over Bernie Sanders in the last US election.

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked The Pentagon Papers, in the past, believes that Assange’s capture is an assault on The First Amendment, the pillar of American democracy. He also believes that unauthorised disclosures have become a kind of lifeblood for the republic, and that his country is in danger.

Until now, Wikileaks has published over 91,000 US military documents online, including the U.S. Army's protocol at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp (2007), Church of Scientology documents (2008), and content from Sarah Palin’s email account (2008).

Assange first became a hacker in 1987. Four years later, he was convicted of hacking into a master terminal of Nortel, a Canadian multinational corporation. In 2006, he established Wikileaks, which now has over 800 occasional helpers, 10,000 supporters, donors, and around 40 full-time staff.

As of now, the documents, which Assange leaked to the public, some time back, with assistance from Manning, has once again put American foreign policy, in a bad light, with respect to its recent invasions, in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the most damaging documents was an official video, in which pilots of US Apache helicopter machine-gunned civilians in Baghdad, while making odious remarks like, oh yeah, look at those dead bastards” and “it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle”.

As per Guardian op-ed writer, Jess Philips, Julian Assange’s case makes it clear that when it comes to women rights, they can wait until political games are settled. She believes that the political establishment in the UK has slapped the feminists on the face, as two women linked to Assange’s case, have waited for years, for their cases, to be answered. Assange, to defend his claims, has denounced this charge as a ‘radical feminist conspiracy.’

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