News / Opinion / Columns

William Saunderson-Meyer
3 minute read
27 Oct 2018
10:45 am

Jaundiced Eye: The honeymoon is over for Julian Assange

William Saunderson-Meyer

It’s all a bit like Mum and Dad trying to convince their loutish freeloading sprog, now in his late 40s, to vacate the basement and get a job.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Picture: AFP

Marry in haste, repent at leisure. Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

Ancient idioms like these weather the centuries because they contain that gritty grain of truth. Now play them out against a mind-stiflingly dull modern backdrop.

Make the protagonist a raging egotist with some nasty habits. Make the other party stuffy and pedantic, with an entirely different language and culture.

Voila! We have an implosion with great moments of comedy. Or more precisely, we have the story of Wikileaks editor Julian Assange’s six years of living in the Ecuador embassy in London.

In 2010, Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Australian-born Assange when he failed to appear to answer accusations of sexual assault and rape by two of his supporters. Assange claimed it was all a conspiracy to extradite him to the US over his leaking of classified material.

He eventually surrendered to the British. But when he failed to convince the courts to rule against his arrest, he broke bail and holed up in the embassy, claiming asylum.

There was widespread support for Assange. Many vocal supporters of today’s #MeToo movement are the same people who were then happy to have their political hero trash the rights of two young Swedish women to have their claims of sexual abuse tested in court.

Initially, everything went swimmingly, with the Ecuadorians proclaiming solidarity with their visitor, while Assange thumbed his nose at his enemies: the UK, the US, Sweden – in fact, the whole of the reactionary West.

But like most hurried marriages, the rosy glow didn’t last. Last week, Ecuador renounced any further responsibility for Assange, saying he should resolve his problems directly with the British government.

It was a dramatic development. And, like most break-ups, precipitated by both important differences and incredibly petty ones.

Ecuador told Assange they would cut his internet if he did not refrain from activities that “could prejudice Ecuador’s good relations with other states”. They also told him to stop leaving the bathroom dirty and to look after his cat properly. Assange must also pay for his food, laundry, and medical expenses.

It’s all a bit like Mum and Dad trying to convince their loutish freeloading sprog, now in his late 40s, to vacate the basement and get a job.

Despite the simpering media propaganda, Assange was never an evenhanded journalist.

He claimed that choosing between Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was like “choosing between cholera or gonorrhoea”. But Wikileaks went ahead to drip-feed a flow of information, evidently provided by Russia’s intelligence, which hurt the prospects of Clinton. Nothing was released that damaged Trump’s prospects.

When the marriage ends, the normal thing is to move along. Assange’s situation is different.

If booted by the Ecuadoreans, the Brits will arrest him for skipping bail. And although he no longer faces an investigation in Sweden, unless he can elicit an unlikely undertaking from the US not to extradite and prosecute him he will still be on the run.

Maybe his new best friend, Mr Trump, will show some appreciation with a presidential pardon?

William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer.

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