Howl­ing hench­men are do­ing Wik­ileaks boss few favours

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

POOR Ju­lian As­sange, mav­er­ick founder of Wik­ileaks and plucker of tail feath­ers from the Amer­i­can ea­gle.

How em­bar­rass­ing that the histrionic celebri­ties weep­ing, wail­ing and gnash­ing their teeth at his London ex­tra­di­tion hear­ing are much the same luvvies that last year sup­ported Ro­man Polan­ski’s bat­tle against ex­tra­di­tion.

It’s like one of those tacky Hollywood se­quels. Film di­rec­tor Polan­ski faced ex­tra­di­tion to the US af­ter flee­ing to Europe in 1977 to avoid charges of sex with a 13-year-old. Free­dom of in­for­ma­tion cru­sader As­sange faces ex­tra­di­tion to Swe­den on charges of sex­ual mo­lesta­tion of two women.

Polan­ski’s sup­port­ers re­jected ex­tra­di­tion be­cause Polan­ski had been “forced” to be­come a fugi­tive be­cause of “in­jus­tice” – the orig­i­nal trial judge ap­par­ently in­tended to re­nege on a plea bar­gain that would have Polan­ski serve pro­ba­tion rather than jail time. Thirty-two years later, to this “artis­tic ge­nius” who had al­ready suf­fered much angst – and had paid off his ac­cuser – the trauma of a new trial was “un­fair”.

The no­madic As­sange

has equally pas­sion­ate sup­port­ers, vy­ing with as­tro­nom­i­cal sums of bail and shoul­der­ing one an­other aside to shel­ter what The In­de­pen­dent calls “the world’s most wanted house guest”.

As­sange’s fans, like those of Polan­ski, as­sert that he should not face trial be­cause it would be “un­fair” – at best the US will pres­sure the Swedes to stitch up As­sange; at worst they will ex­tra­dite him to the US where he will face a pup­pet trial.

Let’s start with a pro­fes­sional dis­claimer. This colum­nist’s in­stincts are in favour of con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected, free flows of in­for­ma­tion and against the cul­ture of mind­less govern­ment se­crecy that Wik­ileaks has eroded and held up to such wellde­served ridicule.

That said, one recog­nises that no govern­ment can func­tion with­out state se­crets. So there are in democ­ra­cies two sets of rights that are in per­pet­ual and nec­es­sary op­po­si­tion, with con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tions me­di­ated by what one trusts is an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary.

The govern­ment must keep state se­crets ac­cord­ing to its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the na­tional in­ter­est. The me­dia must act, us­ing the le­gal de­fence of pub­lic good, to ex­pose the abuses that politi­cians in­evitably seek to hide un­der that self-same blan­ket of na­tional in­ter­est.

There is not the slight­est ev­i­dence that As­sange will not re­ceive a fair trial in Swe­den, nor that the sex charges against him are po­lit­i­cally trumped up. In­deed, if they were – and un­doubt­edly there are politi­cians from Bei­jing to Washington who would love to see him jailed – As­sange’s best ul­ti­mate pro­tec­tion would be a vig­or­ous and suc­cess­ful re­but­tal of the charges in an open Stock­holm court, be­fore the world’s as­sem­bled me­dia.

The sex charges against As­sange are for a court to de­cide, not for a bunch of limp-wristed, hand-wring­ing celebri­ties, whose be­lief in con­spir­acy is di­rectly pro­por­tional to their en­thu­si­asm for the po­lit­i­cal views of the de­fen­dant. These are the very same peo­ple who, de­spis­ing his pol­i­tics, in­sisted a few years back that Ja­cob Zuma should stand trial on rape charges, de­spite sim­i­lar mis­giv­ings by some that the al­le­ga­tions were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

While it is true that po­lit­i­cal pres­sure can in­flu­ence pros­e­cu­to­rial de­ci­sions – ask Zuma – there is no ev­i­dence that the Swedish ju­di­ciary, nor the Amer­i­can one, for that mat­ter, is so cor­rupt as to de­liver ver­dicts to govern­ment pre­scrip­tion.

With­out ev­i­dence of sys­temic cor­rup­tion, one must rely on the courts to pro­ceed fairly and to pro­duce what is ul­ti­mately a just re­sult.

So it’s time for As­sange to face the mu­sic. And for his howl­ing sup­port­ers to re­mem­ber that his ac­cusers, even if they are only women, also have rights.

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