Bianca Jagger writes on the “trial by newspaper” of Julian Assange:
Trial by Newspaper
By Bianca Jagger
What was missing in “10 days in Sweden: the full allegations against Julian Assange”(The Guardian, Nick Davies, 17 December 2010):
I was surprised to read the article, “10 days in Sweden: the full allegations against Julian Assange” because I hold the Guardian in high esteem and I cannot fathom why such a credible publication would publish a prejudiced and unfair article. I object to the Guardian’s decision to publish selective passages from the Swedish police report, whilst omitting exculpatory evidence contained in the document.
Julian Assange has the right to a fair and impartial trial in a court of justice; instead, in denial of due process, he is being subjected to a ‘trial by newspapers,’ in an effort to discredit him. This tactic is not new. As Justice Felix Frankfurter said in 1961, ‘inflammatory’ news stories that prejudice justice are ‘too often’ published. For those that remember Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to the New York Times, this seems to be a case of history repeating itself. Like Assange, who has been hailed a ‘terrorist’ by US Attorney General Eric Holder, Ellsberg was subjected to a malicious media campaign, in which he was branded ‘the most dangerous man in the world.’
It is deplorable the Swedish police files have been given unlawfully to the Guardian and other newspapers. By whom I wonder? We have the right to know who is behind this obvious effort to conduct a smear campaign. According to Assange’s legal team there is a lot of exonerating evidence in the police file, and material which they supplied to the Guardian, including a copy of the chronology of events, and the press statement of the initial chief prosecutor Eva Finne. This important evidence was omitted from the article. The statement by Ms. Finne, “The decision which up to this point has been established is that Assange is not suspected of rape and he is therefore no longer wanted for arrest” is nowhere to be found.
I am aware that Assange’s legal team failed to respond to theGuardian on time when invited to publish a response to the article prior to its publication. However, the point here is not about the defense. The issue is the choices theGuardian made when presenting the facts contained in the police dossier, and the overriding duty of any credible news publication to present a fair rendition of events, particularly when due process is at stake.
There is information in the public domain, including Tweets, SMS messages and statements to friends, from the two complainants. Although there are vague references to this correspondence, the content is conspicuously absent from the narrative the Guardian has woven.
If the media insists in engaging in this reprehensible method of publicly trying Julian Assange, the least they could do is publish an accurate account. The Guardian has reversed the presumption of innocence by only publishing allegations against him, and not his account of events or the mitigating evidence in the police dossier. Although the article alludes to his objections to the allegations, his account, contained in the police file, is not directly quoted.
From a molehill, a mighty mountain of innuendos has been made to cast Julian Assange as some kind of rapist. I refuse to be drawn into passing judgment on the case, however, we should all remember, Assange is innocent until proven guilty.
I condemn and abhor rape and as an advocate of women rights, I will denounce any man who forces his sexual attention on women. I have found the sequence of events in the case against Assange, disturbing to say the least. At the end of the day, the issue here is justice and due process for all. Denying justice for men will not achieve justice for women.
Assange has been criticized for not being willing to return to Sweden to prove his innocence. It is hardly surprising he has reservations, given Sweden’s human rights record. Anyone acquainted with it will remember the cases of Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad Alzery, two Egyptian asylum seekers who were, according to Redress, ‘removed from Sweden to Egypt by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency in cooperation with the Swedish authorities and outside of any legal process, ‘ on charges of terrorism in 2001. The deportation was carried out by American and Egyptian personnel on Swedish ground, with Swedish servicemen as passive onlookers.
In 2005, in Agiza v. Sweden (Communication No. 233/2003), the UN Committee against Torture found that Sweden had violated the Convention against Torture. The following year, in Mohammed Alzery v. Sweden (Communication No. 1416/2005), the UN Human Rights Committee found Sweden to have violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Alzery was released without charge after two years in prison however, ‘he continues to suffer physically and psychologically as a result of his torture and ill-treatment.’ Agiza was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a military tribunal. The process was not fair, and there is doubt as to the men’s guilt.
Redress has stated:
Mr. Agiza and Mr. Alzery remain at a real risk of torture and ill-treatment as a result of Sweden’s violations of the Convention against Torture. These cases epitomise the recent attempts by states to circumvent the absolute principle of non-refoulement enshrined in the CAT in the name of counterterrorism.
Given this precedent, one can appreciate why Julian Assange is apprehensive about being extradited to Sweden. In the Today Show on December 21st, Assange revealed that Sweden has requested that if he returns and is arrested, he is to be held incommunicado, and his Swedish lawyer is to be given a gag order.Having grown up under a dictatorship in Nicaragua, I am very sensitive to any attempts to weaken our democracy. Although I do not agree with everything WikiLeaks has done, I feel compelled to defend freedom of speech, freedom of the press and due process. I was in court last week, not, as has been reported to pledge surety for Assange’s bail, but to voice my support for the founder of WikiLeaks, because I suspect that what is on trial here is not Julian Assange’s alleged sexual misconduct, but freedom of speech guaranteed in Art 19 of The Universal declaration of Human Rights, The First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Art 10 of The European Convention on Human Rights. This trial has far reaching implications for all of us who believe in the core values of our democratic system. I fear that Mr. Assange is being punished for releasing information, which reveals the misuse of power by the US and other governments. He is on trial for holding governments to account.
It is my hope that justice will be served in the British judicial system. In the meantime, I hope readers will have the insight to suspend judgment until all evidence is available. Julian Assange is innocent until proven guilty.
I am pleased to learn that the Guardian will be publishing an interview with Julian Assange.
December 26th, 2010