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Published by Naveen Sharma

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Published by: Naveen Sharma on Jan 25, 2013
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september 8, 2012
Economic & Political
september 8, 2012 vol xlviI no 36
The Curious Case of Julian Assange
The twists and turns in this case illustrate clearly the severe limits to freedom within “democracy”.
n a matter of just two years, Julian Assange, the journalist who exposed the workings of the United States (
government and military through WikiLeaks, has emergedas an icon, a courageous path-breaker for many ordinary people worldwide but also a criminal in the eyes of somegovernments. The dramatic twists and turns in the Assangestory, as he fights to avoid being extradited to the
froma third country (something he believes is a real possibility),are not just gripping but also throw up several importantquestions around concepts of democracy, free speech andhuman rights.From the day two years ago, when WikiLeaks uploaded onthe internet 2,51,287
diplomatic cables and military docu-ments that exposed the criminal actions of that country out-side its borders, Assange has remained in the spotlight. Exceptthat the attention on him has shifted from the expose that hepulled off to the determination of Sweden to get him extraditedto face charges for two cases of alleged sexual assault. Even ashe lost the case in the
against extradition to Sweden, Ecuadorhas granted Assange asylum. Attention is now riveted on howand whether he can be safely transferred out of the embassy and flown to Ecuador. All this also makes a curious kind of theatre. Assange isa journalist who has made it his mission to expose whatgovernments like that of the
do while posing as beingdemocratic and committed to human rights. His success indoing this with one country has placed all countries withsecrets to hide on the defensive. Yet, ironically the very countries that claim to be committed to freedom of the press,to democratic values and to human rights see Assange as a“threat”, while a country like Ecuador, not seen by the westas being committed to the same “democratic” values, is will-ing to grant him asylum.To some, Assange’s fear of going to Sweden to face chargesappears unfounded. They argue that if he is innocent, heshould be able to prove it. But Assange’s apprehensionthat once in Sweden he could be extradited to the
is areal one. The Swedish prosecutors have been offered thechance of questioning Assange in the
, in person or tele-phonically, but have refused. This refusal is what raises adoubt as Assange has still not been charged with a crime inSweden. In fact, the former Stockholm chief district prosecutor,Sven-Erik Alhem, has been quoted as saying that Swedendoes not have a legitimate case to seek Assange’s extradition,that it is “unreasonable and unprofessional as well as unfairand disproportionate”.Significantly, an organisation called Women Against Rapein the
that has fought for hundreds of rape victims overthree decades believes that Assange is being pursued forreasons other than the rape charges. Like Assange, they think the insistence of the Swedes that he appear in personfor questioning in Sweden is part of the plan to extradite himto the
.Why should Assange fear extradition to the
? For one,the world has watched with horror the way the 27-year-oldsoldier, Bradley Manning, suspected of leaking the documentsto Assange, has been treated in the
since his arrest. According to the
Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manningis being held in “cruel and inhuman” conditions. It is nosecret that the
is building up a dossier against Assange. A few weeks ago, Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein statedthat Assange should be tried for espionage, a charge thatcarries with it a life or death sentence.
Vice PresidentJoe Biden calls Assange a “hi-tech terrorist”. There is littledoubt that Assange will face the full might and wrath of the
state and judicial system if he were ever to step intothat country.Whether the sexual assault charges are true, exaggerated orcooked up, it is evident that the issue is not just a simple case of  Assange going to Sweden to clear his name. Birgitta Jonsdottir,the Icelandic
who co-produced the video that captured American soldiers shooting civilians from a helicopter inBaghdad which was the first major leak by WikiLeaks, says Assange’s fears of extradition to the
are legitimate. HerTwitter account was hacked into by the
department of  justice, and despite assurances from the
government, hergovernment has cautioned her against visiting the
. Shebelieves the
“wants to get even with WikiLeaks”.How long Assange remains in the Ecuador embassy inLondon, whether he will ever be able to travel as a free man, whether the power of the
will prevail ultimately and forcehim to face a court in that country are acts in this drama that

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