Former foreign minister Alexander Downer, who has come under scrutiny in recent months for his curious movements during the 2016 US presidential election, is now dismissing the notion that the Australian government has an obligation to protect one of its citizens from egregious legal abuse at the hands of foreign governments.
Wikileaks founder and Australian citizen Julian Assange has been languishing in Belmarsh Prison in London since he was dragged out of the Ecuadorean embassy by British police in April. Assange had been holed up in the embassy for seven years (illegally detained, per the UN) after being granted asylum by Rafael Correa’s government. His asylum was later revoked by current president Lenín Moreno, setting the stage for his arrest, imprisonment and possible extradition to the United States where he would face espionage charges and a potential life sentence. All for the offense of exposing American war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Assange is in prison for skipping bail in 2012, a minor and common infraction that almost never results in jail time. He and his lawyers are now fighting to prevent his being extradited to the US where he is all but guaranteed to be railroaded into prison.
Recently Assange appeared in court for a hearing, during which he reportedly struggled to state his name and date of birth. Former British diplomat and friend of Assange, Craig Murray, sat through the proceedings and later wrote that Assange showed signs of torture, noting that he is going bald, limping and has lost more than 15kg.
“But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration,” Murray wrote. “When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of the proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.”
He went on to state that he would not be surprised if Assange did not survive the court proceedings.
“Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable.”
So, what is Mr. Downer’s response? Platitudes about “nobody being above the law.”
“All people are equal before the law,” he said, according to The Age. “Julian Assange doesn’t get some dispensation from the law of the land, in this case of the UK, because you happen to agree with him or think he did the right thing.”
While it’s true that Assange is not above the law, he certainly appears to be below it in the eyes of the British, American and Australian governments. Due process evidently does not apply to individuals who show the public what state power doesn’t want them to see.
Downer and every other Australian who refuses to speak up for Julian Assange’s basic human rights are complicit in an extralegal effort by the United States government to permanently silence, and possibly kill, one of their fellow citizens. Eternal shame on them.