The decision by the British Home Secretary that Julian Assange may be extradited to the US to face trial for “espionage” against the US is unprecedented. It sends a dangerous message to all investigative journalists, who often expose to the public the upside-down side of public policy. One that is supposed to remain hidden while hypocritical narratives claim something about values, human rights, spreading or defending democracy and working selflessly and selflessly for the electorate. If Assange only published the dirty details of Chinese or Russian politics, he would have a pretty comfortable life and several prestigious journalism awards. He would be invited on TV shows and quoted all over the place, he would have published several books and Western politicians would be patting him on the back. He would certainly not face the possibility of rotting in a British or American prison.
But Assange has also published the dirty secrets of the world’s current superpower, the US. A country that officially espouses democracy, the rule of law, freedom and human rights, sets itself up as a role model, and is often happy to tell other countries how they should or should not live and organise their societies. Its current President, for example, recently said that ‘the work of a free and independent media is more important today than ever’. WikiLeaks has shown that the US has also violated human rights, tortured people – citizens of other countries – and imprisoned them unjustly, and that it is responsible for hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Assange has let loose on the world a very unpleasant truth about how the United States is actually able to advance its interests, despite the words and proclamations that have turned out to be a show of hypocrisy. The information published by WikiLeaks is, unfortunately, an eloquent demonstration of the fact that, in many respects, the US is actually no match for its authoritarian competitors. And that is unforgivable.
All Orwell readers know that in a world where truth becomes a crime and hypocrisy the norm, liberalism and democracy do not flourish, but only tyranny.
The Assange case, including his increasingly real extradition to the US, and the espionage allegations themselves, are significantly pushing the boundaries of freedom of speech, the right to information and freedom of the press. These three principles are historically linked to Western liberalism as it has gradually taken shape since the late 18th and during the 19th centuries. It is ironic that political and media elites in the West today call for the defence of these principles and label countries such as Russia and China as direct threats to Western liberal democracies, only to then increasingly trample on these principles at home and restrict and persecute freedom of speech and the press, those who expose any inconvenient truth to the electorate and in the public interest – for example, that war crimes and violations of human rights or international law are not confined to authoritarian regimes and that Western politicians have not cleaned up their own act. The punishment of Julian Assange will be another present under the tree for all authoritarians. All Orwell readers know that in a world where truth becomes a crime and hypocrisy the norm, liberalism and democracy do not flourish, but only tyranny.
Veronika Susova-Salminen is editor-in-chief of Casopis Argument.