Workers Hammer No. 245
Free Julian Assange!
On 11 April, British cops dragged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy, where he had been trapped by the British state for seven years. Assange is now caged in London’s maximum security Belmarsh prison. On 1 May, he was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison on the absurd pretext that he skipped bail when he was granted political asylum at the embassy in 2012. At the time, Assange was facing bogus allegations of “sexual molestation” and “rape” in Sweden, from where he would have been shipped off to the US.
Assange, an Australian citizen, has been in the crosshairs of the imperialist rulers since at least 2010, when WikiLeaks disseminated a trove of classified military reports and communications documenting US and British war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. When Assange found refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, swarms of cops surrounded the building, while the Foreign Office threatened to revoke Ecuador’s diplomatic immunity and storm the building to seize their quarry. The cops kept up 24-hour surveillance, lying in wait to seize Assange should he step outside the embassy even for a breath of air. His health was ravaged by the years he spent confined in the embassy and on 29 May he was moved to the Belmarsh prison medical wing.
As soon as Assange was arrested, the US predictably requested his extradition. Initially indicting Assange for conspiring with Chelsea Manning to crack a computer password, on 23 May the US further slammed Assange with 17 counts of “espionage” carrying a total of 175 years in prison. Ecuador gave carte blanche to US prosecutors to cart off confidential legal and medical records crucial to Assange’s defence.
Manning herself suffered seven years of torture in an American dungeon for courageously providing WikiLeaks with the materials she uncovered while working as an intelligence analyst in the US Army. She is once again in prison (for the second time in a matter of months) for refusing to collaborate with an American grand jury witch hunt against Assange. The US and British rulers want to drive home the message that anyone who tries to expose imperialist atrocities will be severely punished. Hands off Chelsea Manning! Free Julian Assange — no extradition! Drop all the charges!
In a 13 April protest letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the Partisan Defence Committee, the legal and social defence organisation associated with the Spartacist League, demanded Assange’s “immediate and unconditional release” and “an end to all extradition proceedings. This includes the possibility of extradition to Sweden on cooked-up ‘rape’ charges, which were never anything more than a flimsy cover for handing Assange over to the vengeful US rulers.”
The two women involved in the manufactured rape allegations, by their own accounts, had consensual sex with Assange. Neither claimed at the time that she had been the victim of rape or sexual assault, one later texting the other that “it was the police who made up the charges” (justice4assange.com). A preliminary investigation in 2010 concluded: “The evidence did not disclose any evidence of rape.” When Sweden wanted to drop its arrest warrant in 2013, Britain insisted that the case be kept open.
Assange repeatedly offered to be interviewed by Swedish authorities in London or by video link. This offer was rejected, until the Swedish courts finally forced the prosecutor to travel to London in 2016. Stockholm refused to rule out extraditing Assange to the US if he went to Sweden. Now the “rape” investigation has been reopened, though a Swedish judge ruled on 3 June that there were no grounds on which Sweden could request Assange’s extradition at the moment since he could be interrogated in a British prison.
The Guardian, along with the New York Times and other leading bourgeois media internationally, published (and profited from) the material made available by WikiLeaks, only to turn on Assange and lead the witch hunt against him. The Guardian has run point for liberals who are squeamish about sending Assange directly to the US and instead demand that he be extradited to Sweden. A 24 May editorial, concluding that the utterly baseless “rape” accusation “deserves a proper trial”, demands: “Send him to Sweden.”
This liberal mouthpiece for British imperialism is joined by a raft of Labour Party parliamentarians and other reformists. Over 70 mainly Labour MPs and peers signed a letter authored by Labour MP Stella Creasy to Sajid Javid urging him to “stand with the victims of sexual violence” and “ensure Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden in the event Sweden make an extradition request”. Creasy is echoed by Labour “lefts” like Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn who claim to oppose Assange's extradition to the US. In response to a Sky News reporter’s question as to whether he would support extradition to Sweden, Corbyn stated: “I do think he should answer those questions, so yes.”
Bringing up the rear are the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). In an article by SWP leader Charlie Kimber, Socialist Worker (12 April) asserts, “Assange should face trial in Sweden if the woman who made the complaint continues with it.” The Socialist (17 April) goes further, chastising the Swedish prosecutors for having “acted very clumsily and slowly in 2010 when the rape and sexual molestation charges were first made”, while amnestying the British state by blaming Assange for his “self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorian embassy”.
In the US, Democrats hold particular animus towards Assange because in 2016 WikiLeaks released a cache of Hillary Clinton emails, including some pointing to her role in the 2011 invasion of Libya (see “WikiLeaks reveals truths”, Workers Vanguard no 1099, 4 November 2016). Aiding Democratic Party liberals, the Guardian did its bit to promote the smear that Assange was a tool of Trump and Russian president Putin.
As documented by Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who publicised the Edward Snowden revelations, an article in the 24 December 2016 Guardian falsified an interview with Assange published in the Italian la Repubblica in order to paint him as a supporter of Trump and Putin (theintercept.com, 29 December 2016). Last November, the Guardian ran a now-debunked story that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in advance of the 2016 elections.
The Guardian initially breathed a sigh of relief when the only charge levelled against Assange by the US involved computer passwords, not publishing the Manning revelations. But with the new charges under the Espionage Act, the Guardian editors are fearful for their own necks, though they are hardly likely to end up in prison. The 24 May editorial frets: “Whether or not the [unredacted] documents should have been published, their publication should not be punished by the American justice system.”
As partisans of the working class, Marxists are unswerving defenders of the democratic right of freedom of the press. At the same time, as VI Lenin noted at the founding congress of the Communist International 100 years ago, “In capitalist usage, freedom of the press means freedom of the rich to bribe the press, freedom to use their wealth to shape and fabricate so-called public opinion.” His “Theses on bourgeois democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat” explained:
“The first thing to do to win real equality and genuine democracy for the working people, for the workers and peasants, is to deprive capital of the possibility of hiring writers, buying up publishing houses and bribing newspapers. And to do that the capitalists and exploiters have to be overthrown and their resistance suppressed.”
We seek to imbue the working class with the understanding that exploitation, oppression and imperialist war, with all its savagery, are inherent to capitalist class rule. Ridding the world of imperialist war and pillage requires a series of socialist revolutions internationally to shatter the capitalist order.
It is in the interests of the working class and all the oppressed to defend truth-tellers like Assange and Manning. Their brave acts have lifted the lid, however slightly, on imperialist barbarities. The working class is subject to exploitation and oppression by the same capitalist ruling class that seeks to suppress whistleblowers like Assange in order to stifle dissent; it should be guided by the old trade union adage: An injury to one is an injury to all!
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WikiLeaks are urging Assange’s supporters to write to him in prison. Letters can be sent to Mr Julian Assange, DOB: 3/07/1971, HMP Belmarsh, Western Way, London SE28 0EB, UK. They must include a return address, including the sender’s full name.