Well, we now have confirmation that Julian Assange will be bailed out. The fugitive who shook up the world with information alone reduced to paying £240,00 just to get out of jail, and what seems to be a blatant case of trumping up charges for political reasons can now go ahead as planned.
I have somewhat mixed feelings about Wikileak’s work in general (despite my contractual obligation to like it as a journalist). I don’t know if a badly-thought-out anarchist philosophy can justify putting the lives of dozens of soldiers at risk, although it’s done some clear good in exposing the coalition’s military blunders in Iraq.
Its founder is also a controversial and difficult figure. I’ve seen Julian Assange in person when he came to a debate at City University, and he didn’t make a good impression. He didn’t seem willing to answer any questions about whether WikiLeaks had gone too far in spreading information, and he was arrogant, rude and far too paranoid about the US government and the military-industrial complex (when I watched him I was reminded of the “it’s the corporations man!” bit from Team America). I don’t think anyone in the audience who saw him in action really liked him or thought he’d won the debate. But a rapist?
It’s revealing that when he was first accused, the case was dismissed after one day for lack of evidence. The case was re-opened in September, but we have yet to hear of any of this new evidence that his accusers supposedly have. The two women involved at least initially seemed more concerned about the fact that he had sex with them without a condom and refused to get an STD test than anything else. This is not exactly nice behaviour, but it’s hardly the same thing as rape. It’s also telling that a red notice was only issued for Mr Assange after he published the US diplomatic documents.
The circumstances of his arrest seem dodgy too: apparently, he went to a voluntary meeting with police, and was willing to turn himself in. As Justice Ouseley said “this is not the conduct of a person seeking to evade justice”. Yet the Swedish authorities still issued a red notice on him, despite his willingness to meet with them voluntarily. Clearly, someone wants him under lock and key as quickly as possible.
Anyway, his lawyer has said that he is pretty sure of beating the case, and despite this being hyperbole 90% of the time that a lawyer says it I’m inclined to agree. This is such a manifestly weak case that it can’t help but collapse. The real issue is that this gives other governments time whilst he’s in prison to prepare a case against him based on the diplomatic cables, and the implications that will have for his future freedom.
Mr Assange is too paranoid about the governments interfering with people’s civil liberties, but even a stopped clock is right a couple of times a day…