Openness and freedom of information are no longer valued in the UK

There are now many countries where the courts, government departments and political processes are considerably more open than they are here, writes Mary Dejevsky

Thursday 16 December 2021 21:30
<p>Julian Assange is currently held in London’s Belmarsh Prison </p>

Julian Assange is currently held in London’s Belmarsh Prison

Last week, after the High Court in London ruled that Julian Assange could be extradited to the United States to face espionage charges, social media was at once abuzz with reactions. But the preponderance of protesting voices came not from the UK, where the case was fought and where the WikiLeaks founder has spent most of the past 11 years, but from a host of other countries, particularly in Europe.

Now there may be a number of reasons why. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his case, Assange has not been taken to British hearts. Those who gave him hospitality found him a difficult guest; his flight to the Ecuador embassy cost his bail sponsors dear, and the police guard and surveillance of the embassy ran up a steep bill for taxpayers. These sentiments have fed into a conspicuous lack of popular outrage that a journalist and free-speech campaigner is being held in one of the UK’s top-security prisons.

But I wonder whether there is not another, bigger, reason as well. Many of the social media posts opposing the High Court ruling came from Spain, Portugal and Greece, countries that have been under martial law or dictatorship within living memory. These are countries where people, especially journalists and academics, and their now grown-up children, know what it really means not to have freedom of speech. Others came from former Eastern bloc countries, where the same applies. Anyone over 40 there will have some memory, if not direct experience, of how the media functioned before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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