As Britain plunges further out of its depth in support of Washington’s failing proxy war against Russia, tipping the cost of living crisis into an outright slump and impoverishing ever wider swathes of the population, our rulers are desperate to conceal from the public what is really going on in our society – and to head off every sign of social revolt.
So panic-stricken are they becoming, they are prepared to make a public bonfire of those very ‘freedoms’ the possession of which is supposed to distinguish ‘liberal democracies’ from ‘totalitarian states’. In particular, that means clamping down on any journalist that takes the notion of press freedom seriously – like the persecuted Australian journalist Julian Assange.
British imperialism is so desperate to hide its complicity with US war crimes from public scrutiny that it has conspired with the USA to keep Assange locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison pending his illegal extradition to the US, where he will face espionage charges bearing a penalty of 175 years incarceration.
For Assange, an ailing man who before his last three years in Belmarsh had already spent seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in which he had sought refuge, extradition is likely to amount to a death sentence. In full knowledge of all this, in June the then British home secretary, Priti Patel, gave the go-ahead for the extradition order that will be implemented shortly.
The USA based its extradition request on an interpretation of its 1917 Espionage Act that blurred the distinction between journalism and spying, enabling the CIA to denounce the independent news organisation WikiLeaks as a “‘hostile non-governmental intelligence service”.
And by following suit and branding every honest investigative journalist as a potential spy, the British state is sending out a chilling message to all journalists, bloggers and whistle-blowers in Britain: Don’t ask too many questions or dig too much dirt, or you may go to sleep a journalist and wake up a criminal.
But the outrageous persecution of Assange, intended to shut down democratic scrutiny of imperialism’s war crimes, is actually having the opposite effect. Sitting in his cell in Belmarsh, Assange is an unignorable reminder of the war crimes he fearlessly documented – as well as an indictment of the failure of most of his fellow journalists to challenge them.
The example he has set is now the yardstick by which all journalistic integrity is measured.