The struggle for Assange’s freedom continues

Imraan Buccus. Picture: Independent Newspapers

Imraan Buccus. Picture: Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 2, 2024


By Imraan Buccus

The double standards in the liberal media in the West, always faithfully echoed by the liberal media here at home, could hardly be more crude.

They manifest in many ways but general public awareness of this came to a head with the brazen double standards in the coverage of the invasions of Ukraine and Gaza.

There is now a vibrant discussion about this double standard that is steadily moving from the periphery of public life towards its centre.

It has often been noted that while the liberal media regularly try to stoke panic about Russian and Chinese propaganda, they are silent on the far more sophisticated and effective propaganda operations of the Israeli and US states.

From the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ like that legitimated the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the ‘forty beheaded babies’ lie that legitimated the genocidal attack on Gaza, the US and Israeli states have been the most effective purveyors of propaganda on the global stage.

Moreover, carefully cultivated panics about ‘fake news’ have resulted in the social media companies directing traffic away from independent left sites, with some seeing up to a 90% drop in traffic after the social media companies changed their algorithms.

There are many instances where left critique from within the West has been falsely presented as ‘fake news’ or as a Russian or Chinese conspiracy.

To be clear, the point being made here is we should consistently oppose and expose all forms of propaganda, no matter where they come from, including from regimes that are enemies of the West.

We should also oppose all forms of censorship no matter which government or organisation is imposing restrictions on freedom of speech. My point is that there is a brazen double standard in which Western propaganda and censorship is implicitly accepted by the liberal mediwara.

But the double standards are relentless. When Israel's military snipers gunned down the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as she clearly identified herself as a member of the press, the silence from Western capitals was deafening.

The cold-blooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi, lured to a Saudi consulate and dismembered by a team of assassins, elicited tut-tutting but no substantive accountability for Mohammed bin Salman's violent autocracy.

We are constantly told that journalists are under threat by regimes that are enemies of the West but there is silence about the 147 journalists confirmed to have been killed in Gaza.

When a political dissident or journalist is jailed in Russian or China, the liberal media in the West, and here at home too, take it as a major issue. Yet they are silent when the same things happens in the West.

The case of Julian Assange, currently a political prisoner in the UK, is a case in point. As the founder of WikiLeaks, Assange embraced the highest calling of journalism - holding the powerful to account by revealing their secrets to the public.

His ethical bravery in publishing the Iraq and Afghan war logs, along with documentary evidence of American war crimes, is a service to democracy that should be celebrated, not criminalised.

Instead, this Australian publisher, married to a South African, has spent over a decade being persecuted, first trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy for years and now languishing in a British maximum security prison under conditions that amount to torture, according to observers.

The US is attempting to extradite him on charges under the Espionage Act that could see him spend the rest of his life in prison for the "crime" of publishing truths the American war machine wanted suppressed.

It is not just Assange who is under attack. Chelsey Manning, the former American soldier who leaked information about US war crimes to Wikileaks, was sentenced to 35 years in prison, and detained in conditions that meet the definition of torture.

In 2019 Ola Bini, the Swedish coder who had provided tech support to Wikileaks was arrested in Ecuador.

The Jamaican IT millionaire Roy Singham, who formerly employed Bini and is understood to have been a key funder of Wikileaks, is understood to have had to flee the US to avoid the clampdown on all actors associated with Wikileaks, and has since been repeatedly maligned in the liberal media via an unevidenced conspiracy theory that makes him out to be a Chinese agent.

Assange, like Jeremy Corbyn, and a number of other critics of Western imperialism, has also had his character systematically defamed.

The Jacobin, a leading publication of the US left with a global audience, recently published an important article showing that Paul Mason, a British journalist who used to be on the left, was sending emails to the British Foreign Office’s Counter-Disinformation Unit.

In these emails he encouraged the British government to isolate, defund and defame left wing critics of Western imperialism.

If a journalist in a country that the West considers an enemy was encouraging the state to crack down on other journalists, it would be a major scandal. However, Mason continues to be taken seriously in the liberal media.

If Assange is extradited and convicted, it will send a chilling message to journalists across the west – do not expose US war crimes or you too may face decades behind bars.

Those who claim to be committed to media freedom must stand up for media freedom everywhere, including in the West. The struggle for Assange’s freedom is one of the front lines in the battle for press freedom everywhere. To abandon him to his persecutors would be an unconscionable betrayal.

**Dr Buccus is a political analyst.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.

IOL Opinion