Free Assange!

Open Letter to the UK n°1

Ms Truss (heads), Mr Sunak (tails)

When I first thought of writing this Open Letter on behalf of Julian Assange, it was Boris Johnson I had in mind. As the prime ministerial recepient, I mean.

It's probably just as well he's gone. He's been called a clown by many in the news industry. And it's tough going arguing with a clown.

Of course, Boris Johnson, as a former member of the fourth estate, contributing among others to The Spectator, unwaivering in its defence of free speech, looked like a good choice. This, of course, supposing that Mr Johnson was aware of the fact that one of his colleagues is held prisoner to rot in one his high-security jails, for quite some years now and for no good reason at all. The person here referred to is Julian Assange but the subject matter, the case in point, really, is the jailing of free speech.

At this point, it's tempting to resort to some sort of emotional appeal, and type out a sob-line: Boris, I'm sure that, at heart, it hurts, quote unquote.

But then, Boris has taken the exit-route. Instead, we'll have Rishi or Lizzy, Mr Sunak or Ms Truss. Neither of them are former journalists. But, presumbably, they're acquainted with the history of their country.

For one, they surely know that, abroad, Great Britain has been known as the home of the deliciously whimsical Scarlet Pimpernel, the saviour of the hounded and hunted, and that countless are the escape artists who found refuge and solace there, among others Stefan Zweig, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Isaiah Berlin, WG Sebald, not to mention de Gaulle and Voltaire. In view of this, the British persecution of Julian Assange does look very bad, in other words foul rather than fair, quite the opposite qualities that, abroad, Britain usually is associated with. Keep that in mind.

Secondly, though, there's the so called "special relationship" with the US, Big Brother by another name. No one in his right mind is unaware of the fact that Assange is held in custody - on no criminal charge whatsoever - because the US has told Britain to do so. The same kind of blackmail that previously nudged Sweden's attempt to frame Assange. You don't annoy Washington free of costs. This is a tough nut. Whether we get Lizzy or Rishi doesn't change the picture very much. What we have here is called Realpolitik, and it's a very hush-hush business. No one wants to talk about it loud. Kings are destined to parade dressed in their nakedness and that's all right - always been all right - as long as nobody says the joke's on them.

That is a problem. But, thirdly, so too is the ridicule besetting Britain's grandstanding in the Ukranian conflict. How can one defend democracy and human rights abroad while acting at home with such outright contempt for freedom of speech without losing all credibility? Saying that, I'm thinking of the people of the Western world, because down south, in the peripheral un-white regions, they know all there is to know about Western credibility.

Millions of people have asked Britain to free Julian Assange. The International federation of Journalists has followed suit. So has the German Parliament. So will many more. One can only hope that the British gouvernment won't be the last to join up.

Erik Rydberg
Editor - Brussels