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Assange: Arresting the fourth estate

  • 12 April 2019


He looked a shock, bearded, unsettled and worried. But Julian Assange's time had come.

Ecuador's Moreno administration was knee deep in the INA Papers affair. The country's national assembly had expressed an interest in investigating allegations of offshore financing through a Panama company. Who better to blame than the man behind WikiLeaks, despite the obvious point that he had ceased being publisher-in-chief, had been under surveillance, ailing and restricted in terms of communication and contact? WikiLeaks had no doubts: a 'high level source within the Ecuadorean state' had suggested earlier this month that the offshore scandal would be used 'as a pretext' to remove a troublesome tenant.

In his address explaining the termination of Assange's stay and surrender to the London Metropolitan Police, Lenín Moreno was disingenuous. He praised his country's generosity and respect for 'the principles of international law, and of the institutions of the right of asylum'. Such praise was merely the prelude for its breach. It was Assange who had misbehaved in being 'discourteous' and 'aggressive', his organisation 'hostile and threatening' to Ecuador. Assange, he reproached, refused to observe 'the norm of not intervening in the internal affairs of other states'.

Efforts to disabuse and deflect any notions of Assange being a persecuted publisher of courage were immediately made by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt: Assange was 'no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years.' The point is telling, given that Assange is the one accused of being in denial of the truth, rather than the military and political establishments he has proven so adept at exposing.

Ever prior to Cablegate, WikiLeaks was the subject of a multi-pronged effort of investigation across several security agencies in the United States. Critics scoffed and presumed Assange was suffering from traditional paranoia and self-importance. All he needed to do was face the charge of skipping bail for refusing to be extradited to Sweden. Yet a mere few hours after Assange found himself in a van leaving the embassy, a US extradition request was unsealed.

The lawyers had been careful. Assange is not being prosecuted as a journalist, which would bring up freedom of press issues under the First Amendment, but as a hacker under the single charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. As the document notes, 'Assange, who did not possess a security clearance or need to know, was not authorised to receive classified material