A couple of days ago I did a long post over at the New Statesman which dealt with the legal mythology which had developed in relation to the Julian Assange extradition case.
I had thought they may be the last substantive thing I would write on the subject. However, a number of Assange’s more committed supporters continue to question my motivations in blogging about the Assange case. This being so, I thought a short (and I hope) final word would be useful.
When the relevant allegations against Assange emerged two years ago, I happened to be one of the first legal bloggers to cover the subject. Straight away it appeared to me that there was a significant due process issue. There appeared a lot of people anxious to discredit the allegations (and the complainants) without there being a proper investigation. In particular, there were many individuals who believed their take on the allegations had a higher purchase than any formal process. There were even some who were “slut-shaming” the complainants.
I thought this was very wrong. I still do.
From that basis, I began to cover the legal side of events involving Assange and Wikileaks.
In February 2011, I challenged the threat of Wikileaks of taking action against the Guardian for “malicious libels”. It seemed inappropriate to me for the organization to be making such a threat. After all, Wikileaks is supposedly about transparency and freedom of information.
And in May 2011, I revealed the Wikileaks £12 million “penalty” clause in their Non-Disclosure Agreement and indeed published the entire NDA. I showed that it – wrongly – claimed a commercial and proprietary interest in the information which had been disclosed to it. This was concerning, because – again – Wikileaks is supposedly about transparency and freedom of information.
(When Wikileaks and others contended that such an NDA was actually appropriate for their work, I even drafted an alternative NDA which had no such commercial pretensions.)
It was becoming clear that Assange – or whoever else at Wikileaks was responsible for their NDA and libel threat – had at best a misconceived notion of law. The impression was that they were making legal stuff up as they went along, and that law was ultimately something which bound others but not them.
Against this background, I blogged about the extradition case. This was not because I have a particular interest in international law, but for another simple reason. It appeared to me that there was a perhaps concerted effort by individuals with significant media power to misrepresent the applicable legal issues so that the due process of an investigation into an alleged rape and sexual assaults would be frustrated and discredited.
This just seemed wrong. And so I started – first on Twitter, and then on blogs – to challenge what were false and misleading statements about the extradition case.
However, this did not go down well, at least with Assange’s supporters.
Here I am being denounced by Wikileaks to their 1.6 million followers.
(I am now actually blocked by Wikileaks on Twitter, which I think is kind of ironic.)
But such tweeting and blogging seemed the right thing to do, and – despite the abuse – I am glad that the debate in respect of the extradition is more informed by correct statements of the law than it otherwise would be.
Most of the critics of my posts on the Assange extradition miss a simple but crucial important point.
This is not really about Assange. I have not met him, and although I regard him as a serial fantasist when it comes to the law, I have no idea whether he is guilty or not guilty of the allegations. It also matters nothing to me whether he is convicted or acquitted. Indeed, if the investigation and criminal proceedings close down by their own volition then I would not give it a second thought.
It is about due process. It is about the circumstances in which people with media or political power can seek to undermine a criminal investigation into rape and sexual assault by promoting misinformation about the law and legal process.
This matters, and an interest in confronting this misdirection provides a complete explanation for why I have followed the case in the way I have done.
The strange paradox is that I have been implicitly criticised for placing into the public domain materials and information which supporters of Wikileaks and Assange do not want to have circulated. They instead want their version of events to be adopted without query.
That said, I have always been a fan of the principle of Wikileaks. (I was especially happy when the “sacred” texts of the Scientology cult was placed by Wikileaks into the public domain.) There is an important public interest in the continuance of the Wikileaks project, but its future really should be de-coupled from the personal matters of any one individual.
The rights of Assange are important; but so is due process.
And complainants of rape and sexual abuse have rights too.