Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

The case of Julian Assange is a permanent stain on Anglo-American ‘democracy’

  • The persecution of the WikiLeaks founder is a blatant display of America’s domestic judicial abuse, extraterritorial overreach and the vassalage of Great Britain and Australia

As the top US State Department official decried China for committing “transnational repression”, her government has been engaged in arguably this century’s most infamous example of the practice: the persecution, sorry, prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

For Uzra Zeya, the undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, the timing is too embarrassing. British Home Secretary Priti Patel has just signed off on Assange’s extradition to the United States on charges under the Espionage Act from the World War I era.

The law’s century-old war origins should give people pause. In truth, its application in Assange’s case is a blatant display of domestic judicial abuse, extraterritorial overreach and the vassalage of Great Britain and Australia.

As some legal experts have pointed out, the secrecy provisions under the Espionage Act of 1917 originally concerned “the national defence”, that is, strictly military matters rather than “national security”, a concept that is of more recent pedigree and which did not exist back then.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in 2017. His extradition to the US has been approved by British Home Secretary Priti Patel. Photo: EPA-EFE

But government lawyers from the Obama administration onward have been given wide latitude retroactively to impose the “national security” concept into this old and virtually unrelated law to go after whistle-blowers, leakers and investigative journalists. They are correct that most Americans have been sufficiently brainwashed to not question such a misapplication.

The law does not only encroach on constitutionally-protected free speech and free press domestically. No other government has been so willing to extend an array of laws to target foreigners, outside of US territories.

The case of Assange is clearly intended to intimidate not only America’s domestic resisters, but foreign critics as well. Washington is not only the world policeman, but also judge, jury and executioner.

‘Dark day for democracy’, as UK clears Assange extradition to US

How did an Australian national such as Assange end up being detained in London to be extradited to the US, with the full compliance of successive governments in those two supposedly democratic countries? Did those governments think his exposé of America’s dirty secrets and war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan have nothing to do with Washington’s vengeance?

When the empire demands, the vassals cannot refuse. But while some may have qualms, Patel clearly has none. This is the same minister happy to see Britain exit Europe’s human rights convention to send refugees in Britain to Rwanda, and pressure two British judges to withdraw from Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal to discredit its judiciary. She makes a fine enforcer for the US.