Wednesday, 15 December 2010

As a regular writer of

Letters to the Editor I was asked to express my views on the predicament in which Julian Assange finds himself. It is something I had been avoiding because I felt I did not know enough. I am still not sure I know enough. I am not going to comment on the specific rights or wrongs of what he has done or might have done either.
However there are some general issues that I do have strong views about. I would like to know what other people think too.
I believe everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence.
If you wish to prosecute someone for wrong doing then the case against them must be strong enough to hold some reasonable prospect of conviction. Charges should not be able to be laid and then dropped and then reinstated - except in the most exceptional of circumstances.
Detention cannot be for a purpose other than the charges which have been laid.
Until someone has been tried, convicted and sentenced they should have a right to free access to their defence team.
Anyone reading this will see where it is headed. The charges of sexual assault against Julian Assange are serious. He is entitled to a presumption of innocence. The charges were laid and then dropped and then reinstated. Questions can rightly be asked about why this was done and whether it should have been done. Were there exceptional circumstances that related to the charges being laid? Is he being detained because of the charges laid or for some other reason?
Is he being given the same access to his defence team as any other person in the same circumstances?
The answers to those questions will come in time.
Wikileaks is a different story and it must be treated as such. Whistleblowers are generally unpopular but Julian Assange is just one such person. There are others involved, even with Wikileaks. The media is also involved. Silencing Assange will probably not silence the leaks.
Assange may end up achieving the opposite of what he intended. The flow of information to the media will be reduced. The media will be more cautious about what it publishes. Those in high places will be more cautious about what they say and to whom they say it. They may also revert to using paper more often.
What all this means for the idea of "free speech" will depend largely on what all those involved do next.


Donna Hosie said...

I agree with the vast majority of your thoughts, cat.

Julian Assange is absolutely entitled to fair and due process under the law, and I hope that he receives this from the UK Courts - which are, to be fair, usually not swayed by political interference.

The one area where I disagree is your final paragraph. I think hackers everywhere - disgusted by the perceived injustice to Mr. Assange - will continue to reek havoc on Governments. The implications could be far more serious than the original expose that Assange and Wikileaks started.

By overreacting to their own embarrasment, the US especially, have created an unseen monster.

catdownunder said...

Oh I agree with you in respect of the hackers Donna - but mainstream media? I am less sure about that.
I don't think anyone has yet come to terms with the potential implications - and they could be enormous.
I still think the UK justice system is one of the best in the world - if not the best. Of course things go wrong occasionally but, on the whole it is very farir and open. However this might be deemed 'national security' and then different rules will apply.
I really would like to know what people think.

Sheeprustler said...

I'm confused. I started off a while ago thinking that his leaking of 'national security' information could potentially endanger individual lives. Having seen bits and pieces of what is being leaked I think of him as more of a whistleblower than I did (a lot of it seems plain tedious and trivial, as I;m sure the proceedings of any government departments are). I don't care who he is or what he is charged with, he, like everyone else, deserves a fair legal system and the presumption of innocence. I believe in the general honour of the British legal system but I;m not sure that I totally share your confidence that someone, somewhere, cannot be influenced by outside pressures.

I can't even decide what the policitical implications will be, long term. At least this situation is promoting a great deal of debate about vital issues such as free speech and presumption of innocence, among a population who often seem complacent about such things.

I was NOT impressed with our Prime Minister's outspoken assumption that he was a criminal. And she's a lawyer!!!!

catdownunder said...

I did put in the proviso that this might be deemed "national security" in which case different rules will apply - and I rather doubt people would really want to know what those rules are. How they are going to make out a case of sexual assault to be one of national security is going to be a problem. The bail conditions and surety being asked go far beyond "reasonable" and are more in keeping with someone accused of murder or a terrorist plot. This alone indicates that it is about more than the charges which have been laid.

Anonymous said...

Cat, I agree with you.
It is rapidly becoming clear that the charges which have been laid and the way in which the case is being handled have little to do with charges of sexual assault. Anyone else wanted for questioning on these charges would not be the subject of an international arrest warrant. Both the sum required for surety and the bail conditions indicate that the Swedes are looking at something more than sexual assault charges.
Bob C-S

Anonymous said...

Far out - anyone who does not believe that the whole Assange thing is politically motivated needs to look at the evidence. The charges were dropped AND THEN reinstated on the interference of a politician!!!
I don't think wrongdoers should get away with anything but the punishment has to be proportionate to the crime. So far no crime has been shown to exist and yet Assange is being treated far worse than violent rapists and murderers. There is something very rotten in the state of Sweden!