- He is accused of rape in Sweden.
- He has been handed an extradition order in the UK.
- He has embarrassed Western governments over their sinister activities in the Middle East and elsewhere.
- The United States has put like-minded individuals in a not-too-comfortable waiting room until they come to trial.
The whole planet is engulfed in an unofficial war of governor versus governed, but many do not see it yet. Or are indifferent to it. I wonder for how long. Assange is not alone in his plight, where even some anti-rape organisations do not want to see him extradited.
There is Pussy Riot in Russia, who like Assange, were not accused of their original anti-government "sin"; that of singing an anti-Putin song in an Orthodox church. To be sentenced to two years' hard labour for that is an exaggeration of breathtaking proportions. But during their trial, these three women were put in a glass cage, as if they were King Kong at any minute about to leap out and devour everyone. That is not taking into account the fact that they had the majority of their witnesses rejected by the judge. In the end, that may have been a blessing in disguise, as they could have got themselves into a whole lot of deeper trouble by having them politicise this sham trial even further. But I am convinced, that if they had not sung about their grievances with Putin, they would have just got their fingers rapped for it and everyone would have said the punishment fit the crime.
Then there was Bradley Manning, who leaked over a quarter of a million diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. After festering in various sinister U.S. detention centres for far longer than is legal under several laws and conventions, he is finally about to be put on trial. But for what, actually? For having passed classified information on to a third party; classified information that would put most Western governments on trial for less. Surely, as it was in the public interest, it should have made governments take a step back and look at their abhorrent treatment of poorer countries. But not a jot of it. This man is a liability and he will be hung, drawn and quartered for it.
Furthermore, he is not alone. James Gee, a Guantanamo priest, who blew the whistle on Guantanamo Bay torture, was charged with adultery and pornography on a government computer. How convenient.
Janis Karpinski, a former Brigadier General in the U.S. Army, was charged with shoplifting after revealing Donald Rumsfeld's policy of torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Funny that.
Scott Ritter, a UN weapons inspector, who was adamantly against the invasion of Iraq, having found no evidence of WMD. He was detained for soliciting minors for sex on the Internet in 2001, charges he was later absolved of, but was rearrested nine years later on similar charges.
Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who accused the Karimov régime of human rights abuses was suddenly accused of trying to seek sexual favours from visa applicants, which caused his removal.
Then there are the show trials in less democratic parts of the world, like that of Dzimitry Kanavalau and Vlad Kavalyou, the "lone wolves" accused of blowing up Oktyabrskaya station in the Minsk Metro in 2011, despite vast amounts of evidence to back their innocence. This includes the fact that a BBC journalist timed the walk from the station to the flat of the accused in just under half an hour, even though the Belarusian authorities claimed the accused had done it in four minutes. Even the Interpol representative was taken in enough to congratulate the Belarusian authorities for finding the perpetrators so quickly. Western governments not so much, but still, Interpol should have known better. Their real crime? They had been "spreading provocative rumours, sowing panic", by bringing up their own theories behind the bombings on social network sites. It was enough to make Lukashenko want to nail them for the charges, even finding evidence that they had committed another atrocity four years earlier at a concert.
But the fact that Western governments questioned the whole nature of the criminal proceedings against the men, and the European Parliament condemned the Belarusian government for sentencing them to death by firing squad, shows the underlying hypocrisy at the heart of Western politics. With Western governments professing to benignly protecting their citizens from cyber-attacks and terrorism whilst at the same time being connected to sinister acts of their own, I would argue that this makes it the most worrying aspect of it all.
We are all now suspects. And it is about to get worse with the attempt by governments to create a central authority that will handle Internet transparency: read this and weep.
If this becomes reality, we will all, at some point, do something that governments and law courts can use against us if they do not like our political views, or feel we are public nuisances, whether it be a naughty rendezvous we organised via Skype or Facebook, or a bill we erroneously forgot to pay, or a flippant remark we make on Twitter. It will also allow governments to crack down on what news we read about, how long it remains online (archiving online will surely mean we won't have backdated copies as evidence so readily available in years to come), and what they can rake up on us if they want to make us out to be persona non grata. It is a tactic used by dictatorships all over the planet, one now being employed indiscriminately by Western democracies, and by taking control of our Internet, our last freedoms are about to be extinguished. People are going to be put on trial for mere nothings simply to discredit them.
Fortunately, many actually see the comical side to this tinpot dictatorial stance by the West, as we saw last night on BBC3. "The Revolution Will Be Televised" is a spoof comedy in which two men drive a combine harvester straight through the Establishment. In one of the scenes, they try to get Tony Blair sainted, and campaign vigorously for it, claiming that turning a short speech into a large bundle of cash is evidence of a miracle. I punched the air with Schadenfreude at this, and when they turned up at Blair's London residence with a stained glass window of him in a venerable portrait with wings and a halo, I could not believe it that the housekeeper (or security) actually lent them a ladder to see if that small object of facetiousness actually fit above the front door. It was a moment when comedy came of age. A moment that said, "we're coming after you, and we're doing it through the medium of spoof television." Pussy Riot meets Sasha Baron Cohen and Monty Python on speed.
Although this type of hard-hitting satire is still possible in Western democracies, I see a slow degradation of our rights and freedom of speech. This process is so slow as to be very difficult to notice for the average Panem et Circences citizen of the silent majority. It is a little like watching a close family member growing up. You don't notice because you see that person every day, but others who only visit every Christmas do. Whether in the supermarket, driving your car, at school, on public transport, or when addressing your local council, technology has already taken the heart out of the procedures it was designed to administrate/calculate/record, by making them rigid, inflexible and often quite intrusive, insulting and undignifying, but just imagine what it would do to your democratic and even basic rights. Under this setup, everyone who is recorded doing something that legally is a grey area, or anyone trying to use their own initiative to speed up a process or help someone get out of a mess which is not the correct procedure, could be subject to investigation or even indictment.
If you want to change a law, the best way is to galvanise public opinion first. Make a scapegoat, get the information, hang it over the piranhas at the press and let them make the most out of it. It is a simple enough thing to do with the right power and money. And these days, governments do not need Berlusconi-esque control over their media to do that, although many prefer it.
Coming back to the main point: if you think the Assange dilemma is about rape, think again. He may have been a cad, he may be accused of having partaken in what George Galloway called "bad sexual etiquette" in a moment of extremely clouded judgement, but for him to prefer to spend what may turn out to be an excessively long period of time in the Ecuadorian embassy in London rather than go to Sweden to face those charges, I think there are some very big fish circling in the waters all around him, and if anyone is going to know it, then that's the boss of WikiLeaks. If this is a sign of things to come, I sure hope the televised revolution promised on BBC3 comes sooner rather than later.