The Australian Government has abandoned Wikileaks activist Julian Assange, says award-winning journalist John Pilger.
John Pilger with his friend Jose Ramos-Horta, former President of East Timor, at the Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali
Speaking at the Ubud Writer’s Festival in Bali, the controversial Australian commentator said it was “to our great shame” that Assange, an Australian citizen, had been left to his fate in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London without any help from his own government.
“His persecution is an assault on us all, and on freedom,” he said.
Assange, of course, has burst back into the news with a report that he wants to sue Prime Minister Julia Gillard for defamation.
Pilger, a close friend of Assange, claims his friend is a victim of governments wishing to silence him, because WikiLeaks has revealed too many dark and embarrassing official secrets to the world.
Assange has been sheltering inside Ecuador’s embassy in London – beyond the reach of British authorities – since June 19, when he sought refuge after exhausting all legal routes to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sex allegations.
Assange and his supporters claim the Swedish sex case is part of a Washington-orchestrated plot to make him stand trial in the United States over his work with WikiLeaks, which has published thousands of secret diplomatic cables and other documents. Both Sweden and the US deny these claims.
In Bali Pilger said repeatedly that there were “no charges” against Assange and therefore the case for extradition is highly unusual. He said the Swedish were simply seeking to question him in relation to the allegations, but once in Sweden could easily be extradited to America.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London
Asked why Ecuador would take him on, Pilger said Assange’s options were very limited.
“I think Ecuador is the perfect place for him to go to. Though it’s a very tiny embassy, and he doesn’t have much room. I think they’ll fight for him.
“They’ve certainly fought for him more than our government, which has abandoned him.
“That goes to the very heart of our civil liberties in Australia,” said Pilger to loud applause from the festival audience, many of whom were Australians.
Pilger, who lives in the UK, had offered to assist Assange with his British bail, but was tuned down by the court.
Asked if he’d lost his bail money, he said: “I’d offered to put up 20,000 pounds myself. But the High Court judge, who I’d encountered before on another issue, refused, saying he wouldn’t accept it from ‘yet another peripatetic Australian.’”
Assange’s ordeal made headlines again recently when the British authorities suggested they may even storm the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest him. This suggestion infuriated the Ecuadorians and was widely condemned around the world by the public and foreign governments alike. All embassies are the sovereign territory of the countries they represent. The British Government now appears to have stepped back from this option.
Always a firebrand, Pilger was also outspoken on fellow media commentators. The late social commentator and author Christopher Hichens, was, he said, “a war-lover – he loved it right up to the end.”
Bristling that Hichens had once labelled him anti-American, he responded, “That’s a rather silly expression. I’ve never been called anti-Australian or anti-British. To say I’m anti America imposing its will on the rest of the world is true; to say I’m anti-America is ridiculous.”
Good Journalism in Decline
Pilger lamented the state of modern journalism and the decline of newspapers worldwide, in which “the editor has become a business manager.”
A crusading war correspondent who won acclaim for his in-depth coverage in Vietnam and Cambodia, he strongly criticised more recent media coverage of the conflicts in Panama, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. Here ‘embedded’ journalists were fed only what the military wanted them to see, giving a false or watered-down impression of the realities of war.
“The best of journalism is made up of exceptions to the system,” he said.
“Even in its finest form, journalism provides not much more than extension of power. Iraq could not have happened if journalists had not amplified/echoed false claims -taken all the lies at face value.
“It’s not to say they didn’t question the system, they did.” But, he said, they were questioning instances rather than the general policy and reasons for waging war.
“I think when concentrated power decides to move, it’s ruthless, certainly in relation to wars.
“Secretive power loathes journalists who do their job: who push back screens, peer behind facades, lift rocks.
“WikiLeaks has ruined such a show – they’ve driven a big red bus through the centre of the whole thing. WikiLeaks has had more scoops in its short time than I have had in a lifetime!” he said.
Australia, he said, had the strongest media censorship in the western world.
Pilger was at the Festival promoting his new documentary, The War You Don’t See, his take on how modern wars are managed and waged.
He said media management was now even a part of governments’ psychological warfare military training manuals, “which has never been the case in the pas.t”
Pilger cited a private conversation in December 1917 between David Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister during much of the First World War, and C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian.
“If people really knew the truth,” the prime minister said, “the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know, and can’t know.”
Police outside the the Ecuadorian Embassy…If Assange steps outside he will be arrested
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