The disappearance of Julian Assange.

For a moment today the breaking-news decision by the High Court that Julian Assange could be extradited to the United States reached the BBC’s front pages. It was still overshadowed by right-wing tabloid approved outrage that Boris Johnson had drinks and snacks with his staff during last year’s Christmas lockdown, but it was at least considered news for an hour or two. Compare this to a week or more devoted to the pantomime ‘gathering’ at Number 10 last year that has totally engrossed the nation. This has dominated the headlines while the Tories rush through laws which can outlaw peaceful protest, throttle refugee rights, gut what remains of the NHS for privatisation and march us smartly towards being an authoritarian state. The kind of illiberal, lowbrow, nationalist failed democracy that Poland and Hungary have been modelling proudly on the junior dictator’s catwalk in recent years.  This matters for Dorset Eye and every newspaper and news source in Britain today.

Collective hysteria about the Downing Street Christmas Party is plastered across the front pages of The Daily Mail and other right-wing rags – a green light for media commentators to spend hours anguishing over who ate a mince pie at Number 10, what shitty Christmas tunes were playing, the brand of champagne passed around and how dreadfully unfair it all is. SO unfair when people were dying alone in care homes with relatives’ noses pressed to the windows and maybe even more outrageous than Dominic Cummings driving his family to stay on his father’s estate and, …sobs, BREAKING THE RULES. What horrid hypocrites!

The English have the sense of injustice of six years olds at primary school and their collective hysteria over non-stories that blow over after a fortnight is something that enables the media to bury the stories that really matter, again and again. The story of Julian Assange really matters. With Wikileaks, he exposed war crimes and massive corruption, provided real headline news that other journalists failed to uncover and is now being prosecuted under draconian World War One US espionage laws that imprisoned people for expressing the mildest anti-war sentiment. What is terrifying is that Assange is not even American, and he has not committed these ‘crimes’ in America. He has been held at Belmarsh (a high security place for the most dangerous criminals) for two and a half years, in almost total isolation, drugged, forgotten by the media that used his stories and now is being served up to spend the rest of his life to rot in a US prison.

Assange has already spent 11 years in incarceration of one form or another, while the media lost interest and looked away, despite the best efforts of Amnesty International and the UN rapporteur on torture Professor Nils Melzer who has shown how the Swedish authorities framed Assange for sexual assault to get him extradited. Few seemed interested in publishing or reading these exposes and most have swallowed the narrative that this is all about a creepy Australian who got what was coming to him. The silencing of whistle-blowers and the disappearance of the story from our media – just as Navalny has ‘disappeared’ in Russia’s self-censored newspapers and broadcast news, is a crucial aspect of the new authoritarian world we now live in.

But this story of the US and UK’s silencing of a man exposing our leaders’ real crimes is the story we should be talking about today and every day until Assange is released. This will only happen under public pressure and the kind of relentless publicity that helped Daniel Ellsberg when he leaked the Pentagon Papers about Vietnam War crimes in 1971. We should turn away from the collective obsession with that pig’s trotter of a human being and his Christmas peccadillos, and focus on what matters. In this case it is the destruction of your right to know, and every journalist’s whistleblower’s right to tell us, about the human rights abuses, corruption and money laundering of the powerful from Tunisia to Washington, Baghdad to the Cayman Islands.

The 10th of December 2021 will be remembered in history, if anyone is around to write our history in 100 years. This will be marked as one of the darkest days for press freedom long after the Downing Street Christmas parties are forgotten.


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