The young lawyer’s argument? That former MI5 agent Peter Wright’s novel, ‘Spycatcher’, should be published because people had a right to know about the hypocrisy of their government.
The book exposed the reality of British espionage: with accounts of plots to assassinate foreign leaders, of actions to overthrow elected governments, of spying on close allies, and more.
The British government succeeded in suppressing the book’s publication domestically, but Mr Wright eventually had it published in Australia after a case that went all the way to the High Court – known as the ‘Spycatcher Case’.
“He would be a very foolish person to imagine he would get a fair treatment in the British courts” said the passionate young lawyer. “It’s already been made perfectly plain that he’ll be arrested as soon as he gets there.”
Three decades later, that lawyer is Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull – but now, he is collaborating with the British government to fight against the public’s right to know.
A marked man
Julian Assange is an investigative journalist who, like many, uses leaked documents to expose the truth.
While Mr Wright’s crime shone a light on spy agencies, Mr Assange has worked to expose the corrupt inner-workings of governments.
Since launching WikiLeaks in 2006, Assange has facilitated a number of damaging exposes: from secret government assassination plots, to international banking fraud, to publishing chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But the website’s trouble didn’t really start until 2010, with the publication of ‘Collateral Murder’ – a leaked video of US soldiers murdering innocent civilians in Baghdad.
Overnight, Assange’s fate was sealed by the highest echelons of the most powerful government in the world, and its allies.
Vice-President Biden labelled him a ‘cyber terrorist’, while then secretary of state Hillary Clinton ‘joked’ about “droning him”. Laws were quickly passed to prohibit WikiLeaks from raising money.
Later that year, US ally Sweden announced it was investigating Mr Assange over alleged sexual offences. Fearing extradition to America if he travelled to Sweden to face the charges, Assange remained in England, where a warrant was later issued for his arrest.
Assange sought amnesty in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The Swedish allegations have repeatedly been labelled a “farce” and a “political witch hunt”, with many including the Swedish prosecutor who was supposed to charge Assange coming out in his defence, – publicly stating that the allegations have no merit.
Mr Assange has now been confined in the Ecuadorian embassy for five years. But just recently, Sweden has called off the investigation.
Despite this, the British government maintains Assange will be arrested if he steps out of the embassy, because he failed to attend court in London.
By any means necessary
Mr Assange has legitimate fears of being extradited to the US if he steps out of the embassy and is arrested.
This week, the US Justice Department announced it was preparing charges against him similar to those that led to Chelsea Manning’s imprisonment – with CIA Director Mike Pompeo making the bizzare allegation that WikiLeaks has links with the Russian Government.
“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”, Pompeo stated.
Details, let alone proof, of these supposed links have not been released.
Australia won’t defend citizen, or the truth
“We are angry and very disappointed that the Australian government has not stood up for one of its citizens and the blatant abuses of Julian’s legal and human rights,” Christine Assange, Julian’s mother, told The Australian earlier this week.
By not demanding guarantees against his extradition, Assange’s family believes the Turnbull government is putting the interests of a foreign power ahead of the rights of one its own citizens.
For five years, England has placed the Ecuadorian embassy under police siege. Since then, Assange has been confined to a small room without sunlight, and limited contact with the outside world. When he has been sick, the government has refused safe passage to hospitals and diagnosis facilities.
Mr Assange’s ‘crime’ has been to expose the secrets, lies and hypocrisy of governments – many of which have been illegal and let to the massive loss of life. The leaks have caused embarrassment to political leaders who have been caught out telling dangerous lies to their constituents – lies so serious that they have acted as the justification for invasions by the West which have, in turn, created divisions and hatred towards the countries that participated in those invasions.
George Orwell once wrote that “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” This is precisely what WikiLeaks has facilitated.
Thirty years ago, Malcolm Turnbull said of the Spycatcher case, “the real issue is whether you have a sensible approach to official secrets”. They are words he would do well to recall today, instead of being complicit in the persecution of an Australian whistleblower.
Kieran Adair is the previous Deputy Editor of City Hub. He has written for the Huffington Post, Guardian Australia and South Sydney Herald. He has a passion for social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.