The Independent UK - September 9, 2020

"When setting a gravely dangerous precedent, governments don’t typically persecute the most beloved individuals in the world. They target those who can be portrayed as subversive, unpatriotic – or simply weird. Then they actively distort public debate by emphasizing those traits."

On Monday Julian Assange was driven to the Old Bailey to continue his fight against extradition to the United States, where the Trump administration has launched the most dangerous attack on press freedom in at least a generation by indicting him for publishing US government documents. Amid coverage of the proceedings, Assange’s critics have inevitably commented on his appearance, rumours of his behaviour while isolated in the Ecuadorian embassy, and other salacious details. 

These predictable distractions are emblematic of the sorry state of our political and cultural discourse. If Assange is extradited to face charges for practising journalism and exposing government misconduct, the consequences for press freedom and the public’s right to know will be catastrophic. Still, rather than seriously addressing the important principles at stake in Assange’s unprecedented indictment and the 175 years in prison he faces, many would rather focus on inconsequential personality profiles. 

Assange is not on trial for skateboarding in the Ecuadorian embassy, for tweeting, for calling Hillary Clinton a war hawk, or for having an unkempt beard as he was dragged into detention by British police. Assange faces extradition to the United States because he published incontrovertible proof of war crimes and abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, embarrassing the most powerful nation on Earth. Assange published hard evidence of “the ways in which the first world exploits the third”, according to whistleblower Chelsea Manning, the source of that evidence. Assange is on trial for his journalism, for his principles, not his personality. 

Read full commentary at Independent UK