Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

If Assange wants free speech, he should go to Sweden

Which would you rather have - women's rights or freedom of speech? Standing outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London last Sunday, that's the choice that seemed to have been placed before the international Left in the person of Julian Assange.

When the WikiLeaks founder finally appeared on the balcony, he praised the crowd for their courage. Nobody mentioned his being wanted for questioning in Sweden on alleged counts of rape and sexual assault.

The idea that Assange cannot be prosecuted for charges related to a sexual assault without being prosecuted for charges related to exposing diplomatic secrets is one that the US Administration is trying very hard to make reality.

It is in their interests to ensure that Assange's army of supporters cannot defend WikiLeaks without also being seen to defend his sexual conduct - whatever the truth of the case.

The precise legal issues at play in Assange's extradition are murky and misunderstood by practically everyone. What charges is he facing? Or are they just allegations? And does that matter before he crosses the Swedish border?

Was it rape, or just - in George Galloway's delicate phraseology - "bad sexual etiquette"? Can he really be legally extradited to the US if he goes to Sweden? Or will the US make use of loopholes allowing his removal and prosecution?

Let's be clear: nobody should have to stifle one set of principles in order to allow another to live. If you choose to do so, that's a matter for your conscience.

For myself, I believe in freedom of speech. I believe that governments need to be made to answer for pursuing profit in the name of peace and massacring thousands in the name of security. And I also believe women.

I believe women when they say that their sexual consent is infringed, violently and coercively, by men they trust and admire, as well as by strangers. I also believe that it is possible to believe women and to support WikiLeaks, without moral hypocrisy.

Nobody should be forced to choose between defending freedom of speech and fighting for justice in the global war on women's bodies. So, please: don't ask if one alleged sex-attacker out of hundreds of millions currently walking free and unpursued across three continents should be made to answer for his actions in a court of law when all that distinguishes him from the rest of the army of decent men doing despicable things to women is the fact that he happens to have personally embarrassed several governments.

The answer is that, of course, Julian Assange should be held to account - in a system where due process means something and women are respected. Currently, that system does not exist.

Come back to me when the 19,000 annual sex-attacks committed by members of the US army and private contractors against their own fellow soldiers are prosecuted. Come back to me when Private Bradley Manning is free. That's not a torturous way of saying: don't come back to me at all. I want that world right now and I want to see everyone else who believes in basic principles of truth and transparency put down their prejudices and fight for that world.

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