Dr Suelette Dreyfus modestly calls herself a researcher. But she is also an author who co-wrote a best-selling book with Julian Assange, titled Underground, a 500-page volume on the lives of young hackers of the 1980s and the 1990s (including Assange himself). While she is glad that a Swedish judge has dropped rape charges against the Wikileaks founder, she insists that a larger conspiracy is at work against him for being an inconvenient journalist. “He completed a sentence (in the UK) for skipping bail in order to seek asylum for what he correctly assessed was a US plan to extradite him via either the UK or Sweden. That is finished. He should be a free man right now,” she argues. Dreyfus, a free speech absolutist who has known Assange for decades, says that the case against him has nothing to do with the tainted voter-profiling firm Cambridge Analytica whose representative he had once met. According to her, the US in particular is being harsh on him because he acted as a journalist should do. They want to scare off investigative journalists based even outside of the United States, she avers. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How do you respond to Sweden dropping rape charges against Julian Assange?
It’s worth noting there were never any rape charges against Assange. There was an investigation – and no charges of any sort were laid against Assange.
This Swedish prosecutor has done her job – assess the data and draw a conclusion. That conclusion was that the evidence did not support any charges nor even a further interview of Assange. She could have requested either. The original prosecutor had been replaced by a new one who reviewed the material more recently. It’s also worth noting that a Swedish court had demanded the prosecutor’s office stop dragging their heels. The prosecutor’s office sat on this case for almost a decade. That’s not doing the right thing for anyone.
What is Assange’s condition in captivity? How does one communicate to him from outside?
I have not unfortunately (been able to be in touch with him directly), except hearing from friends who have visited him in person. His conditions are bad, very bad. He is very isolated, in a cell alone for some 23 hours a day usually. He has lost a lot of weight and has been quite ill. He is, in fact, very unwell and I worry he will not survive if he is extradited to the US.
But he can receive mail – letters and photocopies of articles. The prison won’t accept other things such as books, it seems. You must include his prisoner number #A9379AY on the front of the envelope. You can include a stamped self-addressed letter back yourself with sheets of paper.
Mr Julian Assange
Prisoner #: A9379AY
London SE28 0EB
But before writing a humanitarian letter to him, consider writing to a UK politician asking for his release on humanitarian grounds.
Julian Assange is not in prison serving a sentence. He is on remand. He completed a sentence for skipping bail in order to seek asylum for what he correctly assessed was a US plan to extradite him via either the UK or Sweden. That is finished. He should be a free man right now. However, because the US is seeking extradition, the UK is holding him in prison.
Why do you think the US as well as the UK are being harsh on him? Has it also got to do with his interactions with Cambridge Analytica executives who manipulated the US election of 2016 and the Brexit referendum? (It was said that in the run-up to the US election, a Cambridge Analytica executive named Brittany Kaiser had met Assange and later donated digital money to Wikileaks.)
The US in particular is being harsh on him because he acted as a journalist should do – he wrote and published stories in the public interest that revealed ugly or uncomfortable truths about politicians and powerful people. This is the nub of the matter. Julian Assange will be prosecuted by the US government for acts of journalism and publishing. That is why this case matters so much to all of us. If he is extradited to stand trial for the crime of journalism, the ruling will almost certainly be against him because of the location in the US where the trial will be held (Eastern Virginia). This will make it hard for all journalists who follow him to do their jobs properly. And Non-American journalists the world over will live forever under the threat of being scooped up and sent to a US prison for their reportage, even if their publisher is not in the US and nor are they.
The political leaders of the UK need to decide how they want the history books to remember them: to yield to US pressures or champion free speech
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No. I don’t think this had anything to do with Cambridge Analytica. He has literally met tens of thousands of people in his life from all walks of life. It doesn’t mean he agrees with all of them.
What does the UK government want to do now?
The UK Government has a choice. It can do what the US commands it to do; send a journalist to face a US court case and a resulting sentence of up to 150 years.
Or it can decide that a prisoner – in this case the most famous publisher prisoner in the world – should be released on humanitarian grounds of his poor and declining health. And allow him to leave Britain and go home to Australia to his family. His mother and father are very distressed about the decline in his health.
Assange has profoundly changed the world of publishing and public access to information. He has shown us all the power of information to force accountability on the powerful.
There are many famous prisoners who changed the world for the better over the past century. Nelson Mandela, Gandhi…. History is not kind to those who were behind the imprisonment and harsh treatments against these prisoners. Indeed, those judges and politicians who perpetuated such prisoners’ suffering are often ridiculed and despised today as backward, wrong or heartless.
However, history recognises well those who show their humanity with acts of charity and generosity to these social changers who needed it. The political leaders of the UK need to decide how they want the history books to remember them.