By William J. Furney
In the end, all he had left was the internet. And then they took that away. And installed a jamming advice so he couldn’t pick up wifi signals from neighbouring places. Then came revelations that host Ecuador had been shelling out millions for extra security for their long-time London guest from Australia who’s now one of their own. Only the special (secret) security operation turned out to be a spying operation, with spooks nosing in on arriving guests who came to meet their rable-rousing hero — and that was removed (and no more guests, apart from lawyers).
What is a former computer-guy turned website publisher turned fugitive from the law in two countries to do?
It seems almost incomprehensible that someone could spend six years in the modest offices of a South American mission without ever stepping out into life. But, bizarrely, apart from a number of brief balcony appearances to address the media below, that will the achievement of Julian Paul Assange on June 19; and the following month he will mark his 47th birthday behind self-imposed bars, albeit with the comforts, however spartan, of the Ecuadorian embassy in central London.
That’s where he fled to avoid UK court-ordered extradition to Sweden to answer sex-assault charges that now, however, no longer stand. But in doing so, Assange skipped bail and faces arrest and imprisonment if he leaves his English digs. The punishment could be a few months or up to a year, but that’s surely nothing given the crippling amount of time Assange has already spent removed from the world.
His fear is the United States would unseal a rumoured grand jury indictment if he left the embassy and was serving time in an English jail, and ask the British authorities to send him onwards to the US to face charges for publishing an enormous amount of confidential — and highly classified — government, military and diplomatic information. (The supplier of that data, one Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning and of the US Army, was jailed for 35 years for the crime and served almost seven before having his/her sentence commuted by Barack Obama last year.)
Many have criticised Assange for failing to face the music, in either Sweden or England, and rightly so. Hiding away, and for the length he has done, is in no way a mark of honour. His site, WikiLeaks, has gone on to interfere in the US election process, harming Hillary Clinton along the way and helping pave the way to tumultuous Trump and with leaked files some suspect came from Russia. Assange had remained vocal on Twitter about a range of issues, including Catalan separatism in Spain. His tacit support for independence for Spain’s wealthiest region was too much for Madrid, which read the riot act to Quito and so Assange’s internet was turned off in March and remains off.
“The measure was adopted in the face of Assange’s failure to comply with a written commitment he assumed with the government at the end of 2017, under which he was obliged not to issue messages that would interfere with other states,” said the Ecuadorian government.
Who needs this self-serving cyber-loudmouth anyway? Ask anyone on the street what WikiLeaks has ever done and you’re likely to be met with a very blank stare. (Hint: It’s been mostly about US military helicopters shooting innocents in perennially war-torn Iraq. Tragic, yes, but: Yawn.)
Assange thrives on staying relevant — and in the media — and sans his internet lifeline he is, as pal Pamela Anderson has said, “suffering”. Without the wind of constant publicity, will he now be smoked out of the embassy, or will he hunker down even more and perhaps write another book that no one will buy or read because not many people really care?
One thing is for certain: Assange has exhausted all his legal avenues, and the patience of his hosts. It is time to step out into the harsh light of day and start living — even if that means facing up to his long-standing responsibilities.