Monday 20 May 2019

A hero or a villain? Arrest of Assange is just the start of a long divisive saga


Our View

The British Government has a lot on its plate at the moment - the small matter of Brexit and the UK's greatest constitutional crisis since the war - so no doubt they'll be pleased to have washed their hands of another irritating thorn in their side, one Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.

Since June 2012 Assange has been hiding from the authorities in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he fled and claimed asylum to avoid his extradition to Sweden where he faced charges of sexual assault and rape.

Assange was, as most readers will be aware, less concerned about his extradition to Sweden than the possibility - to be fair probably more of a certainty - that he would eventually be shipped to the United States.

Since 2010 the US has been doggedly pursuing Assange for his and WikiLeaks' role in leaking thousands of confidential US military files that revealed gross human rights abuses during the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the leaked documents - provided by Chelsea Manning- were published, Assange and his organisation were hailed by many as heroes for exposing the truth of what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unsurprisingly, this was not a view shared by the western governments involved in the wars and occupation operations in the Middle East.

For a few years Assange was seen as a hero of the global left though this reputation was seriously tainted by WikiLeaks' apparent interference with the 2016 US Presidential Election.

Leaked Hillary Clinton emails published by WikiLeaks were seen as instrumental in Donald Trump winning the White House and Assange is now widely viewed as either a willing collaborator or a stooge of Russian intelligence.

In recent years - thanks to his hermetic life behind the doors of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London - Assange had largely faded from the public consciousness.

That all changed dramatically last week when, after months of behind the scenes negotiations between the Governments in Westminster and Quito, the Metropolitan Police were allowed into the embassy to arrest Assange who was carried from the building to face bail jumping charges.

By all accounts, Assange had been a source of constant trouble and irritation to his Ecuadorian hosts. His arrest last week was an international version of the irritated property owner who finally evicts a troublesome tenant who had been given the keys to the house by a previous landlord.

Assange now faces an uncertain future. Within hours the United States and the president he helped into office sought his extradition on computer hacking charges. Sweden too is weighing up its options.

The WikiLeaks founder faces a two front attack and it looks set to be a long and hard fought battle. Amid the many cries that his arrest is an assault on press freedom, it looks like Mr Assange looks set to appear on the front pages for some time to come.

Enniscorthy Guardian