Don’t shout at me about Assange

Gathering outside the Ecuadorian Embassy

‘Patience is a virtue’, the old saying goes, ‘seldom found in women, and never found in men.’

Like all traditional expressions, it carries a point worth considering but is not actually true. Patience is a skill that few learn, and I worry that the rising tide of people’s politics, whilst a good protection against the corruption of the powerful, leaves some very complex issues in the hands of the first ones to grab a placard, dash off a motion or agree to chair something or other. Patience is falling by the wayside.

Personal issues

Everyone has one or two issues that are central to their own lives and philosophies – those are the ideas we hold to with a passion. For me, it’s about emancipation – spiritual and practical emancipation. Governments exist to provide for the people, not the other way around. In my life, the drive for freedom of thought and expression has, over the years, focussed my attention on to two specific issues: the first is freedom of expression – in speech, in education, in writing and publishing; the other is women’s liberation – a campaign which was making good progress when I came of age in the 20th century, but has been sliding backwards with growing speed ever since.

Assange and Wikileaks

(They are not one and the same thing) I have long followed the story of Wikileaks with great interest because of the freedom to publish angle, especially for whistle blowers. It’s where I learned just how misleading the ‘progressive’ media can be. I learned to assess and read a real range of sources. I read up the Wikileaks story all the way back to a kid called Mendax. It was clear to me all those years ago, reading that story, that we would one day have to protect the man Mendax became from a gargantuan US-led revenge. I adopted the Wikileaks stance of transparency for the powerful, privacy for individuals. That went quite well with my other soapbox issue.

Women’s liberation

Ten, twenty years ago, most people were saying equality for women was well on the way to a done deal in the UK but they were proved wrong, way wrong – and the dreadful back-slide became visible to most of us when the #metoo campaign got rolling. There are still too many people who don’t understand the problems women face in many arenas, not least in sexual relations and also not least, when dealing with the law. We have to be firm, we have to be clear, and we have to keep pushing.

An almighty clash

Which is why, this week, the more emotional elements among my allies in both those campaigns have been agitating for me to agree with some very rashly arrived-at opinions on the Assange case. It is not clear, it is not simple; patience and attention are required – and are in fatally short supply.

The many hours of reading and discussion I’ve had on this made two things clear to me. One: the public view of the situation is extremely distorted, and two: it is vital that we don’t allow the US Holdfast to take revenge on a whistle-blowing publisher with the collusion of our police and our government. If that happens, no UK publisher or writer is safe, and freedom of expression is under severe threat.

On another tack, is vital that we don’t let misogynist views, or the shameless undercover action of corrupt authorities, mess up our view of women’s rights and violations of women.

Everything else is as clear as mud, which is why neither of those necessities can be addressed by screaming, ill-informed demands for this or that action or opinion. Criticising Assange’s personal hygiene, based on rumour, is not good enough. Saying ‘I believe her,’ as though it’s an article of faith is not good enough.

Which government are you willing to trust?

 Do you trust the USA?

If you haven’t realised yet that the US government, military and corporations (they are inseparable) are dangerous and dishonest, please go do some reading, then come back. We certainly can’t trust the US government in this case. They have already subjected the other victim of this situation, Chelsea Manning, to numerous human rights violations. The reason the UN agreed that Assange was in danger is that they know the US is not a safe country for a whistleblower to be extradited to.

Do you trust the UK?

Our Prime Minister, several cabinet ministers and others were very quick to come out with judgemental statements on this issue – statements that proved that they don’t have the facts clear in their heads. One of the first responsibilities of a politician when commenting on an individual case should be to note what legal processes are in train, and avoid saying anything prejudicial, so the government failed at the first hurdle of professionalism and responsibility. At least some of the Opposition’s statements laid out the principles involved.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised by the poor response from our government ministers. An increasing proportion of our population are aware that we have a very unsatisfactory non-team of politicians not-running our current government, and although it’s clearly getting worse, it’s hardly a recent thing. This government casually swept aside the UN’s pronouncement about Assange in much the same irresponsible manner that Blair did the UN rulings over Iraq.

Do you trust Sweden?

Is Assange in danger of being captured by the US if he goes to Sweden? Voices of authority say “no” – but they are the same voices that, up until a couple of weeks ago, were saying he wasn’t in danger from the US if he walked out of the Ecuadorian Embassy. The UN did not agree.

Sweden failed to question Assange during the weeks he waited there, and he did wait. They refused to guarantee his safety in Sweden when he made it a condition of returning. They failed to respond to an offer to come and question him in the Ecuadorian embassy – failed for a long, long time – and how much do they care? A UK minister sent them a message saying ‘oh, don’t get cold feet’.

Just how scary is this situation for Sweden, and why? If they are doing something, in collusion with UK ministers, that requires such a message, it’s not hard to understand why Assange wanted assurances before he considered going back to Sweden.

Sweden has different laws around sex-crime. I’d question whether their definition of this strange and worrying thing, ‘minor rape’ is a crime in the UK.  Rightly or wrongly, if it isn’t, can it be an extraditable offence? Either way, I don’t know exactly what happened in Sweden, and neither do you.

Sweden has a different way of conducting sex-crimes trials to ours. No jury is involved, therefore it would be necessary to absolutely trust Sweden’s system and officials, to call a Swedish trial a fair trial in a case like this, because we would not be able to see the process, or the decision makers. We would not know if/when US people with a very different brief were to get involved.

Do you trust Australia?

Considering Assange is (was) an Australian citizen, the Australian authorities have been remarkably absent from all this. It looks to me as though Australian politicians are quite happy to think it’s all a long way away from them. It’s horribly easy to imagine them waiting for other governments, rather than theirs, to screw up and take the flack.

Knowledge and opinions

I can’t see any sign of the politicians or the journalists informing public opinion on this doing any serious research, and yet the world is full of people with hard and passionately held opinions on what ought to happen next.

Freedom of expression matters

It matters desperately in the case of whistle blowers. Allowing a publisher to suffer punishment for publishing does not help to solve an alleged sex-crime.

Women’s voices matter

The line ‘she made it up’ carries far too much weight in law courts in just about every country in the world. Even if you feel certain that Assange has been framed, even if you see ‘entrapment’ written all over this case, shouting about the reliability or otherwise of women’s testimony is a crime that will echo down the years. Tread carefully.

Passion and patience

Passionate, self-assured political campaigning is great, and much needed – but only if you are sure of your facts, and of the affect your action will have.

Social media is not the world but it’s still damaging if you fly around soc media pages flaming at people – even if your cause is justified, all you do is put people off – it’s not just bad practice, it doesn’t even work. Have patience, do some research, keep doing research – all the time you are dealing with politics and the law, keep checking what you think you know – and if you want to change hearts and minds, think about what makes people change their minds. Impatient, emotional diatribes do not.

MEPs outside Belmarsh Prison

the latest (as I write) – a press release from outside Belmarsh Prison.

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