Question for Kirbymoorside UK Hustings Meeting: Would you stand up for Julian Assange?

To those candidates who are putting themselves forward as MPs to become a voice within the UK Parliament — would you stand up for Julian Assange and for those who. in speaking truth, have the audacity to challenge the dialogue of power?

I am disappointed that my question relating to the arbitrary detention of Julian Assange was not presented at the Hustings meeting at Kirbymoorside. I consider it to be a question of such vital importance for all those who share a common belief in justice, truth and commitment to democracy and freedom of speech, so I have chosen to re-present a significantly fuller version of the question by using an open letter form.

The treatment of Julian Assange, arguably one of the world’s most brilliant, courageous and outspoken personalities, raises serious concerns in so many ways that we urgently need an open discussion on it. These areas include: unlawful arbitrary detention, the law on asylum and extradition, democracy, sovereignty, torture, free speech, and state violence.

The initial investigation against Julian Assange, which originated in Sweden, never reached the stage of prosecution and all investigations have since been withdrawn. Julian Assange has also served time in prison for skipping bail by seeking asylum within the Ecuadorian Embassy because of the well-founded fear that he would be extradited to the United States. In such circumstances skipping bail and seeking asylum was a rational and fully justified decision. Nevertheless, our judicial system chose to punish him by giving him a prison sentence in Belmarsh — a prison reserved for Britain’s most dangerous and violent offenders.

That sentence has now been served which brings into question why Julian Assange continues to be detained. Within the UK extradition of political prisoners is prohibited. Therefore, questions arise as to the legality of this extradition order and what the justification is for his continued detention, especially within a top security prison. Julian Assange is charged with espionage, which by any definition, comes under the umbrella of political activity. Along with Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange is charged with publishing information regarding US war crimes in Iraq. The UK is a sovereign kingdom and signatory to international human rights laws, over and above its relation with the US. For UK laws to be subverted at the behest of a foreign government raises a further serious question. Just who is being represented here: the citizenry or some other power?

In 2016 a UN Working Party on arbitrary detention determined that the detention of Julian Assange was unlawful. How this same Working Party in 2019 would view his forcible extraction from the Embassy and his subsequent detention at Belmarsh Prison can only be speculated upon.

Nils Melzer, UN Rapporteur on torture, has stated that the current treatment of Julian Assange — of being under surveillance and placed in solidarity confinement, both during the latter years within the Ecuadorian Embassy and within Belmarsh Prison — amounts to psychological torture.

Julian Assange is a researcher and publisher. His crime has been to publish truthful information relating to serious war crimes committed against civilians, including journalists and children, by US forces within Iraq. Clearly this revelation is embarrassing for the US — which along with the allied military forces invaded Iraq on a contrived pretext — at the time deemed illegal by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The devastation of this war has been disastrous for civilians throughout much of the Middle East as this toxic war mentality kiled hundreds of thousands, created a huge refugee population, and contributed to terrorism that has expanded into Europe and beyond. Definitively, telling, writing, and publishing the facts was a moral obligation. There is a glaring irony here given that within the UK “it is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment ‘not’ to reveal information relating to a serious crime if one becomes aware of it.”1

The state has normalised war just as it has normalised the extremes of wealth and power. The oligarchy has relegated a large segment of the population to a marginal economic existence. The so-called democracy has been subverted to the whims of transnational corporations, banks too big to fail, the military industrial complex, the pharmaceutical medical monopoly and special interest groups. The violence inflicted upon Julian Assange for his factual revelations should serve as a warning to all publishers, journalists, writers, artists, whistleblowers and anyone of integrity who values human rights, justice, honesty, and democracy.

Freedom of speech is what protects us all from tyrannical governments. It brings them into check when they acquire too much power. A government which represents those with money and power serves only to foster a climate of corruption and fear. It does nothing to address the increasing division between rich and poor and the growing population of those who find themselves afflicted by poverty or sent to fight wars of aggression.

Julian Assange was a leader in researching facts, exposing corruption, crime, and injustice. He became a teacher for those who value original thought and inspired critical thinking. Without such people our world is poorer.

My question therefore is: Where do you stand with regard to the treatment of Julian Assange and others who are willing to risk their freedoms in speaking truth and revealing information that the state finds embarrassing, including that of war crimes and crimes against humanity?

  1. See  Craig Murray, “Violence and the State“, December 3, 2019. []
Heather Stroud, the author of The Ghost Locust and Abraham's Children, has been involved in human rights issues for a number of years. She lives in Ryedale where she is increasingly drawn into campaigns to keep the environment free from the industrialization and contamination of fracking. Read other articles by Heather.