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The pursuit of Julian Assange is an assault on freedom and a mockery of journalism

The British government’s threat to invade the Ecuadorean embassy in London and seize Julian Assange is of historic significance. David Cameron, the former PR man to a television industry huckster and arms salesman to sheikdoms, is well placed to dishonour international conventions that have protected Britons in places of upheaval. Just as Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq led directly to the acts of terrorism in London on 7 July 2005, so Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague have compromised the safety of British representatives across the world.

Threatening to abuse a law designed to expel murderers from foreign embassies, while defaming an innocent man as an “alleged criminal”, Hague has made a laughing stock of Britain across the world, though this view is mostly suppressed in Britain. The same brave news­papers and broadcasters that have supported Britain’s part in epic bloody crimes, from the genocide in Indonesia to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, now attack the “human rights record” of Ecuador, whose real crime is to stand up to the bullies in London and Washington.


It is as if the Olympics happy-clappery has been subverted overnight by an illuminating display of colonial thuggery. Witness the British army officer-cum-BBC reporter Mark Urban “interviewing” a braying Sir Christopher Meyer, Blair’s former apologist in Washington, outside the Ecuadorean embassy, the pair of them erupting with Blimpish indignation that the unclubbable Assange and the uncowed Rafael Correa should expose the western system of rapacious power. Similar affront is vivid in the pages of the Guardian, which has counselled Hague to be “patient” and that storming the embassy would be “more trouble than it is worth”. Assange was not a political refugee, the Guar­dian declared, because “neither Sweden nor the UK would in any case deport someone who might face torture or the death penalty”.

The irresponsibility of this statement matches the Guardian’s perfidious role in the whole Assange affair. The paper knows full well that documents released by WikiLeaks indicate that Sweden has consistently submitted to pressure from the United States in matters of civil rights. In December 2001, the Swedish government abruptly revoked the political refugee status of two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed el-Zari, who were handed to a CIA kidnap squad at Stockholm airport and “rendered” to Egypt, where they were tortured. An investigation by the Swedish ombudsman for justice found that the government had “seriously violated” the two men’s human rights.

In a 2009 US embassy cable obtained by Wiki­Leaks, entitled “WikiLeaks puts neutrality in the Dustbin of History”, the Swedish elite’s vaunted reputation for neutrality is exposed as a sham. Another US cable reveals that “the extent of [Sweden’s military and intelligence] co-operation [with Nato] is not widely known” and unless kept secret “would open the government to domestic criticism”.

The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, played a notorious leading role in George W Bush’s Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and retains close ties to the Republican Party’s extreme right. According to the former Swedish director of public prosecutions Sven-Erik Alhem, Sweden’s decision to seek the extradition of Assange on allegations of sexual misconduct is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate”. Having offered himself for questioning, Assange was given permission to leave Sweden for London where, again, he offered to be questioned. In May, in a final appeal judgment on the extradition, Britain’s Supreme Court introduced more farce by referring to non-existent “charges”.

Accompanying this has been a vituperative personal campaign against Assange. Much of it has emanated from the Guardian, which, like a spurned lover, has turned on its besieged former source, having hugely profited from WikiLeaks disclosures. With not a penny going to Assange or WikiLeaks, a Guardian book has led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The authors, David Leigh and Luke Harding, gratuitously abuse Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”. They also reveal the secret password he had given the paper which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables. On 20 August, Harding was outside the Ecuadorean embassy, gloating on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”. It is ironic, if entirely appropriate, that a Guardian editorial putting the paper’s latest boot into Assange bears an uncanny likeness to the Murdoch press’s predictable augmented bigotry on the same subject. How the glory of Leveson, Hackgate and honourable, independent journalism doth fade.

Not a fugitive

His tormentors make the point of Assange’s persecution. Charged with no crime, he is not a fugitive from justice. Swedish case documents, including the text messages of the women involved, demonstrate to any fair-minded person the absurdity of the sex allegations – allegations almost entirely promptly dismissed by the senior prosecutor in Stockholm, Eva Finne, before the intervention of a politician, Claes Borgström. At the pre-trial of Bradley Manning, a US army investigator confirmed that the FBI was secretly targeting the “founders, owners or managers of WikiLeaks” for espionage.

Four years ago, a barely noticed Pentagon document, leaked by WikiLeaks, described how WikiLeaks and Assange would be destroyed with a smear campaign leading to “criminal prosecution”. On 18 August, the Sydney Morning Herald disclosed, in a Freedom of Information release of official files, that the Australian government had repeatedly received confirmation that the US was conducting an “unprecedented” pursuit of Assange and had raised no objections. Among Ecuador’s reasons for granting asylum is Assange’s abandonment “by the state of which he is a citizen”. In 2010, an investigation by the Australian Federal Police found that Assange and WikiLeaks had committed no crime. His persecution is an assault on us all and on freedom.

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John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the political cartoon?

Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
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Meet Momentum: the next step in the transformation of our politics

The leadership election was just the start - this is the next step. 

Something big happened in British politics this summer. After years of being told there was no alternative to austerity and the stale politics of despair, something amazing happened.

Given just half a chance, hundreds of thousands of people seized an opportunity for a new kind of politics. A form of politics that was kinder, more honest and straight talking. One that refused the political counsel of despair and offered a simple yet powerful alternative: Hope.

As we now know it was Jeremy Corbyn that so clearly and forcefully articulated this simple yet powerful message. One that explained a now obvious, self-evident truth -  that austerity is a political choice, not a necessity.

A quarter of a million people, 60 per cent of the total leadership vote, overwhelmingly made Jeremy Corbyn their new leader. Shortly afterwards Labour’s conference gave Jeremy and his shadow cabinet a clear mandate to turn the Party into an anti-austerity party of hope and bold alternatives.

Whether people agree with Jeremy Corbyn's politics or not it's becoming increasingly clear his victory has blown politics wide open. As US actor Shia LaBeouf recently exclaimed, “British politics just got very exciting”.   

But more important is that these changes are good for our democracy. The British public deserve real choices not forced, technocratic arguments about variations of the same dead end arguments. Once again we've been reminded we should never fear articulating bold, radical and credible alternatives to the problems facing our economy, country and planet.

After years of cuts, privatisation and the handing over of ever more power to unaccountable vested interests, our country is crying out for such new ideas and leadership.  On everything from climate change to the housing crisis, we need solutions that are credible, bold and radical. It's why our party recently established an economic advisory group headed by a range of highly respected economists like the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty. Yes, we'll be radical but never at the expense of credibility.

So we've broken the mainstream political mould of the past 35 years, offering something new and positive - a kinder way of doing politics. And yet to read some newspapers or listen to some political commentators you could be forgiven for thinking we've ushered in nothing short of political armageddon. A theme many have picked up on is something the Tories are clearly pushing, namely that the “Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family's security”.

In the unwritten rule of parliamentary politics and etiquette this is, even by Tory standards, a desperate low-blow. If there were any doubt that both they and the powerful vested interests they represent felt threatened, this should put paid to it.

Be under no illusion - the powerful, the exploiters, the excessively wealthy will not pull their punches. By standing up to them, both Jeremy and the Labour Party will face an unparalleled assault that will make what happened to Ed Miliband pale into insignificance.

That's why the need for a social movement to work for a more democratic, equal and decent society inside and outside the Labour Party couldn't be greater. One that can help make the political space necessary for the new ideas we so badly need.The array of vested interests confronting us cannot be taken on by one man or even a single political party in Westminster. Instead, we need a bigger, broader, deeper alliance that can confront such powerful, vested interests.

That's why today, four weeks after ballots closed in the Labour leadership election; I'm so very pleased to announce the launch of Momentum.

Momentum is a grassroots network arising out of, and following on from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader campaign.

It plans are as bold as the challenges that confront it. It will organise in every town, city and village to create a mass movement for real, progressive change.

It will work with Labour members to transform our Party into a democratic institution worthy of its founders' original aspirations. A Party with not just the right policies for a General Election but ultimately the collective will to enact them in government.

But we also understand politics has changed and is changing. The top-down, command and control, monolithic political structures of yesteryear are fast fading. The political eco-system of today is both vast and diverse. Whilst out Party can play a key leadership role in future political change it must also understand it does not have a monopoly on opposing vested interest.

That's why Momentum will strive to bring together progressives campaigning for social, economic and environmental justice across the country. Be they individuals or groups we'll reach out into our communities and workplaces to campaign and organise together on the issues that matter to all of us.

Throughout the campaign, Jeremy spoke about building a social movement to work for a more democratic, equal and decent society. Now is the time to make this a reality and to build on this  - Momentum.

Clive Lewis is the MP for Norwich South and an Opposition frontbencher.