Assange case rips West’s cloak of ‘freedom’

The United States and its allies such as the United Kingdom like to portray themselves as champions of freedom of speech. The US lawmakers proposing the China Social Media Reciprocity Act claim that information, whatever its intended purpose, should flow freely in cyberspace, accusing China of blocking the free flow of "ideas" espoused by the US on Chinese social media.

The hounding of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks by the US shows the hypocrisy of their words. Fighting extradition to the US, the Australian citizen was in exile for two years, sought asylum in the embassy of Ecuador to the UK for seven years, and has since been imprisoned by the UK for three years.

On Friday, the UK government finally authorized his extradition after the UK High Court overturned a lower court ruling against his extradition.

In its initial extradition request in 2019, the US Department of Justice charged Assange with conspiracy to break into a classified computer system to obtain "national defense information". It issued a new indictment 12 days later, charging Assange with 17 counts under the US Espionage Act.

The charges relate to the 750,000 classified US documents and diplomatic cables that were published by WikiLeaks that exposed secret US military operations and the inner workings of US diplomacy, as well as possible war crimes and the use of torture by the US military.

While Assange and his supporters defend his actions as freedom of the press, the US authorities disagree and regard him as a "foreign threat" and WikiLeaks as a "hostile intelligence service".

Which is a revealing about-face, as when Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 the US paid little attention to it. It was not until Assange published the large numbers of US documents relating to its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that the US charged him with spying.

Clearly, while it is okay to leak other countries' documents, it is a grave offense to leak those of the US.

The US likes to pursue such political lawsuits. Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, was detained by the Canadian police on Dec 1, 2018 at the request of the US, which cited a trumped-up economic charge to cover its true political motives.

Assange's lawyer says he will appeal the UK government's decision, so his legal battle will continue to drag on. But his case has already torn the fig leafs from the claims of the US and the UK that they are bastions of free speech.