In mid October, six months into the communications blockade on its founder, WikiLeaks issued a statement which included the following.
"Ecuador has told WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that it will remove the isolation regime imposed on him following meetings between two senior UN officials and Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno on Friday"
These officials were the Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression, David Kaye, and High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
Yet there was no effectual change in his communications for another month, excepting that access to his lawyers was additionally banned. This came on the heels of his lawsuit against Ecuador, which was then stalled by referral to another court. Lawyers were blocked again this week, as unsealing of his US indictment was anticipated and likewise left to wait.
Last week he was permitted his first visitor besides lawyers in eight months. There is a strict regime for visitors, including an application process where several have been stonewalled, falsifying the surreal claim of Ecuador’s foreign minister that no restrictions were in force.
Since the ambassador in London, Carlos Abad, was relieved of his post on Wednesday, no diplomats familiar to Assange remain in his physical environment, which has turned hostile.
The UN was supposed to have made a positive difference, yet the opposite result immediately took hold with draconian new protocols, which serve as tripwires directly tied to a threat of expulsion. Despite occasional visits now, his position is still significantly worse than before the UN’s approach. While such an incongruous outcome is hard to explain, considerations below may shed some light.
Not long before the described meeting with UN officials, Moreno made the striking admission that, "(if) Mr Assange promises to stop emitting opinions on the politics of friendly nations like Spain or the United States then we have no problem with him going online."
This is phrased in the most literal terms. His connection to the world was withheld only to block expression of politically unwelcome opinions. Nothing so explicit was mentioned in the past, though earlier statements and the timing of events suggested as much to many.
WikiLeaks had noted that Assange was asked to remove a provocative tweet comparing past and present treatment of Catelonian presidents by Spain. This tweet from the 25th of March was not deleted, and came less than two days before the curtain descended on his communications. Yet the particular issue of censorship in this context has hardly been addressed by mainstream media.
A rare exception was the BBC’s airing in August of James Ball in interview with John Sweeney outside the Ecuadorian embassy. Yet they were not about to interfere with the official UK mood of resentment toward Assange. After all, interference is a contemptible thing which only entitles one to misery. Ball conveyed this quite well with the case of Assange:
“They’re not arguing over whether he’s a terrible house guest who doesn’t do the washing up. They’ve got some real diplomatic problems with stuff he’s been doing, and that’s leaked out. While he’s under asylum he needs to stop interfering in politics. And then he really kind of screwed his card with them by interfering and sort of posting a lot on the sort of Catalonian independence question. Now Spain’s quite a good sort of friend and ally of Ecuador; they help them out a lot, they’ve got a close relationship, and so having their sort of most famous sort of asylee interfering against their policies was a real headache.”
This rationale for Ecuador’s clampdown on Assange is not based in law according to Ecuador’s former consul in the UK. He points out that the “only concrete reference states that they may not incite violence or insurrection within the country that has taken them in.”
Yet as noted, some consider it a point of manners for asylees to withhold opinions that may trigger reflexes of diplomatic pressure.
Opposed instincts can arise on this matter, hence it may appear a grey area or somewhat impenetrable. Yet it holds great depths and contrasts, which can be revealed with a touch of abstract reasoning through a hypothetical.
Suppose you are responsible for the safety of one who speaks against a foreign crackdown on independence voters. In this straightforward case, the ethical issues are clear enough to be summarised as follows.
The party cracking down is not just right to be offended by audible disagreement, but to give you the death stare for allowing such grave interference with the air. Indeed worse results are due if you risk further attacks on their dignity or agenda by failing to gag and isolate the offender.
Yet all will be fine if you swiftly comply, and the BBC will validate such conduct beside the lockdown zone, after a few months duly afflict its occupant.
That is simply how manners work, and has nothing to do with persecution. If those treated harshly for political reasons appear ill-mannered then such treatment is not political persecution. Nevermind the definition of the latter.
Besides, human rights are confections outweighed by state rights to consume them and press rights to defend each bite.
A superficial orthodoxy defies that realism, yet in practice, calling policy inhumane is taken as violence against proper consensus. States and media effectively ignore, ridicule or censor such critique as ignorant interference.
In all, the wrath of establishment is more typically served than questioned. Such commonsense behaviour, despite decline over millennia, is a resilient check on liabilities of democracy.
So even assuming persecution as relevant, why shouldn’t the BBC be a state apologist for it?
It can be hard to come to a new realisation, but that’s precisely why experts in reporting and elucidating are here to communicate accurately and authentically. Moreover, they would already be condemned to obscurity by disinterest or critique if not worthy of trust.
The pretence of political correctness is increasingly abandoned for greater honesty and impact by many players and commentators. Prohibition of expressing political opinions, for instance, as issued by Moreno on the world stage and for Western allies, both evinces and catalyses this transformation in politics.
Nor can we rightly forget the 2016 US election. Exceptions to the rule of never prosecuting publishers are valid if a case can be made that secrets they revealed, and obtained with our enemies, decreased national stability. That subjection to political constraint eviscerates press freedom, in this context and all others, is relatively trivial.
All principles, democratic or otherwise, can and must be compromised to secure our special way of life against foreign attack, which is the obvious primary threat to it.
Each of the matters raised above concerning Assange is directly tied to the fortunes of democracy. So it is interesting that in regards to him most pundits are silent or hostile. Even with life incarceration or execution looming, their effective stance is that no such fate warrants objection.
So reputable media abets persecution. Or more saliently, our organs of public wisdom have exposed democratic values as disposable.
While this may not convince everyone that human rights are nonsense, the fact may soon enough be impressed with truncheons.
Yet nothing is assured, and we should all be moved to action against the likes of Assange, lest they abolish our exceptional way of life.
Dr. Simon Floth is an Australian analytical philosopher who has lectured in metaphysics and logic at the University of New England and is currently researching on religion. Since 2004 independent news sites have run his political articles and he appears as a panellist with Unity4J to support Julian Assange. He was a volunteer with WikiLeaks from 2007-2009, discussing vision and experimenting in collaborative analysis by email. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.