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Assange Defended at PEN International

CN Editor Joe Lauria spoke out in defense of Julian Assange and against growing press censorship in the West at a meeting of Pen International in Bled, Slovenia.

Consortium News Editor Joe Lauria addressed the 54th annual PEN International Writers for Peace Committee meeting in Bled, Slovenia on Thursday. A video of the opening session, called “Empty Chairs,” which honored Julian Assange and other journalists follows his address. Below that is the text of Lauria’s remarks.

Text of Joe Lauria’s address on Assange to PEN International Writers for Peace Committee

It is hard to exaggerate the monumental significance of the case of Julian Assange.

It is hard to exaggerate about the destruction of a man’s life for doing his job better than almost anyone else and about the destruction of Western governments’ claims that they champion a free press.

Our website, Consortium News, has provided the most comprehensive coverage of the Assange case in the English language. We were inside Assange’s courtroom in London and followed every hearing later by video link to the courtroom. We have just come from Australia, where we have contacts with Assange’s family and his supporters there.

Within weeks he could be extradited to the U.S. to face up to 175 years in an American dungeon for the crime of publishing accurate information.

Julian Assange is not a rapist. He’s not a spy. He’s not a hacker. He’s not an agent of Russia or anyone else. He’s a publisher who is slowly being killed for his work as a publisher. And for no other reason.

Julian Assange’s case is one of the most important press freedom cases in history. And why? Harold Pinter said that while the U.S. commits crimes around the world the media acts as though “Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening.”

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks showed that it did happen.

And for that the U.S. has imprisoned him in a major European capital and charged him with revealing its wrongdoing.

It is an attack on press freedom usually associated with the most repressive totalitarian regimes. Assange’s case goes to the core of how we define ourselves in the West: are we democracies that uphold the right to criticize government or growing autocracies that crush dissent?

“The really horrifying thing about this case is the lawlessness that has developed: The powerful can kill without fear of punishment and journalism is transformed into espionage,” said the UN rapporteur of torture Nils Melzer. “It is becoming a crime to tell the truth.”

Silencing Assange was the beginning of the recent tide of censorship in the West with Ukraine now being used as the excuse and it is getting worse. Before, the U.S. government pressured social media to shut down speech it didn’t agree with. Now it is directly involved, creating a Disinformation Governance Board under the Department of Homeland Security law enforcement to police the media. Woodrow Wilson failed by one vote in the U.S. Senate in 1917 to legalize direct government censorship in the Espionage Act despite the First Amendment. Now Wilson’s dream is coming true.

He didn’t get government censorship but he got passed the Sedition Act under which the leader of the U.S. Socialist Party was imprisoned for a speech he made against the military draft. Hundreds of others were imprisoned for what they said.

Assange has been indicted under that Espionage Act, which is in direct conflict with the First Amendment, but so far not successfully challenged in court. Vice President Joe Biden said in 2010 that Assange could not be indicted because he only received classified material and didn’t steal it himself. But now Biden refuses to end Trump’s prosecution of Assange.

It began with Assange, but now efforts are underway to stamp out the smallest spark of dissent, lest it grow. The U.S. government is demanding total control of the narrative. The word total is in “totalitarianism.”

We in the West have to understand what is happening to us in the midst of this war hysteria. We have to rationally analyze this crisis. We cannot put up with censorship of the press, no matter what we think of the war in Ukraine. There are irresponsible people in the media who are calling for direct war with Russia and some who think a nuclear war can be won. The madness has to stop.

Assange is the most dangerous man alive to the Western establishment. He was destroying the myths by which it retains it legitimacy. And thus they are destroying him.

Julian Assange is dying. And so too is Western democracy if the world does not rise up in his defense.

Reprinted with the author’s permission.