Friday, August 17, 2012

Assange open thread

Topics for discussion:

1. The British threat to storm the embassy: I've been having trouble with the facts on this. Was a threat issued, or misreported? Did it come from the government, the Met police, who? In any event, even the most strident anti-Assange-ite must surely agree that a threat was both stupid and reprehensible, including from the perspective of British embassy staff in authoritarian states like Venezuela and Belarus. Can anyone justify it? And hasn't the policing of the Assange zombie cultists outside the embassy been extremely heavy-handed?

2. The right to asylum: For those of us who argue for a more robust and expansive right of asylum, and indeed opening of borders generally, is it hypocritical to be scornful of Assange's claim to asylum? Or, rather (as I think), doesn't he de-value and weaken refugee rights by claiming fear of persecution in Sweden, surely with one of the strongest human rights protection regimes (and indeed one of the highest level of asylum claims granted) in the global North?

3. Rafael Correa's Ecuador: What do we think of Correa? He has been accused of heavy-handed policies towards press freedom; he seems to both have a greater commitment to democracy than Hugo Chavez and a strong democratic mandate; his economically nationalist petro-socialism-lite is more moderate than Chavez's. Is the anti-American tirade of his foreign secretary a forgiveable blip, or indicative of Chavez-esque populism?

4. The embassy stay: Has Assange been living off the generosity of the Ecuadorian tax-payer while in there? Or have wealthier members of the Assange zombie cult subsidised him? Should we feel sorry for the Ecuadorians for having been chosen by him?

Background reading collected by the Soupy one: Owen JonesDavid Allen Green .

Previous: Assange/Shamir; Assange, Ardin and conspiracy theories.


HarpyMarx said...

I just think that Assange should go to Sweden and face his accusers. The apologists for Assange conveniently forget or say that he's been set up based on no evidence whatsoever! It's an injustice that these two women haven't had their chance to put forward their testimony as Assange is hiding in the broom cupboard in the Ecuadorian embassy. Before anyone says it, I don't know if Assange is guilty but that's why the evidence needs to be tested in court. Anyway, won't Assange be safer in Sweden than the UK?

Jim Jepps said...

It's one of the frustrating things about the whole thing is the arguments Assange supporters use range from spurious to reactionary to dishonest to plain old pig ignorant.

In particular the idea that deportation to Sweden puts Assange at greater risk of being extradited to the US. Greater risk than in the UK? Hardly.

First neither state can extradite to the US if there is a threat of the death penalty being used. Second the extradition treaty between the US and Sweden explicitly states that extradition will not be granted if it is for a military or political offense.

clearly if the UK has threaten to violate the Equadorian embassy that's stupid in the extreme (opening up the possiblity of other states violating the UK's embassies) but that does not mean that there is not a case to answer nor, despite some claims of Assange supporters, that the charges are not serious and would not be regarded as crimes here - which they clearly would be.

bob said...

Thanks Harpy and Jim. My thoughts exactly.

I feel a bit irritated at myself that I used up my lunch break today reading comments on Assange, when of all the issues in the world (e.g. the slaughter of black striking miners by black riot police at a South African mine) it is hardly the most pressing. This is an example of the spectacular, mediated nature of politics today, I guess, in which Assange's celebrity becomes the topic. In fact, his celebrity crowds out the issue of rape, for example.

Among the depressing comments I saw were those which defend him because he is some kind of hero of free speech. For example, the great secularist Taslina Nasreen tweeted "I am not anti-America but I support Julian #Assange. I support him because I believe in absolute freedom of expression." As if being anti- or pro-American or anti- or pro-free speech should make a difference to whether an alleged rapist should answer a case. I liked some of the responses, such as "give me your bank details so I can express them in public" or mentioning the "expression" of the location of alleged collaborators in Afghanistan so they can be killed by the Taliban, or pointing out the hypocrisy when Ecuador (as well as Belarus, which Assange has helped out) are pretty poor on free expression, or my favourite "which is why I love Jim Carrey, cuz he is a man with thousand expressions".

But surely, whether someone is a hero of free expression or not does not mean they should be allowed to get away not answering to a rape allegation simply because they are an anti-American celebrity.


I also noticed from Twitter that HuffPo published some trashy and factually misinformed piece of Assange adulation from one Annie Machon, who seems to have become a HuffPo regular poster in the last few weeks. Machon is billed at HuffPo as "Director, LEAP, former MI5". She was David Shayler's partner, which gave her some notoriety, which she used to promote the 9/11 Truth Cult - see Paul Stott's blog and also Notes from the Borderland for details. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Waterloo Sunset said...

I don't even entirely understand where Taslina Nasreen is coming from in terms of her own perspective. How difficult is it to go "I support the work of Wikileaks but believe Assange the individual should face the rape allegations"?

On the other hand, I'm less impressed with most of the replies then you are.

give me your bank details so I can express them in public

Obvious strawman, about the same level as "How can you be anti-capitalist when you use money".

or mentioning the "expression" of the location of alleged collaborators in Afghanistan so they can be killed by the Taliban

Does the death toll from that still stand at zero?

pointing out the hypocrisy when Ecuador (as well as Belarus, which Assange has helped out) are pretty poor on free expression

That's a stronger point. However, while Index on Censorship (which is one of the primary sources for much of this is coming from) is entirely consistent on the issue in my book, I'm less convinced some of Ecuador's critics aren't being opportunistic.

What is the practical difference between Correa using the law to shut down press (in at least some cases, from what I can tell, press that probably have libelled him) and us using D notices, our farcical libel laws and prosecuting journalists for not revealing their sources? Is there a real difference between him raiding radio stations and confiscating their broadcasting equipment and how we deal with pirate stations? One thing he's been rightly criticised for provisions to insist that ISP addresses are identified without a court order. But the Digital Economy Act lays out provisions for internet access to be restricted, solely on the word of the Secretary of State.

The same goes for the criticism of a failure to prosecute police abuses. So unlike us with our fine record of prosecuting deaths in custody. And the anti-terrorism laws are never used to prosecute political dissent here-

None of this is to say that I support Ecuador. But I don't see how most of what they're doing is outside the norm of what happens in liberal democracies all the time. The reaction to it is just very different here. Which I have to suspect is, at least in part, because they wrote off large parts of their debt a few years ago.

which is why I love Jim Carrey, cuz he is a man with thousand expressions

That, on the other hand, is made of awesome. And whoever posted it easily wins the Internets.

Alex Ross said...

"Does the death toll from that still stand at zero?"

That is not really the point is it? For example, I used to work for the local council and had access to the names and locations of women in refuges (escaping domestic violence). If I decided to publish those details on the internet, then I take it you’d agree that such an action couldn’t be defended on grounds of “free speech”. But, more to the point, even if no one was harmed as a result of those details being leaked, it would still be a morally reprehensible thing to do, would it not?

bob said...

It is true that Ecuador's treatment of the media is not particularly bad compared to the liberal democratic average. I wouldn't want to claim that they is bad guys and Britain (or Sweden) is good guys. And I also genuinely don't know enough detail about the Correa government to make a judgement either way; my question wasn't rhetorical. But it does just seem a bit rich to claim to be free speech heroes while bullying your own media.