Julian Assange is of course innocent unless he is proved guilty. But his refusal to put the allegations against him to the test has done him no good at all. It is a disgrace that he has been able to avoid due judicial process. He has abused this country’s respect for the rule of law, jumping bail and misusing our law on diplomatic immunity.
He still stands accused of rape in Sweden, an offence allegedly committed in 2010 and for which he is liable for prosecution until 2020, when the 10-year statute of limitations expires. Today, however, the Swedish prosecutor abandoned the attempt to extradite him, because there is no prospect that the government of Ecuador, in whose London embassy Mr Assange has sought refuge, will give him up.
It is not clear whether this will make any difference in practice to Mr Assange’s position. Despite his defiant speech from the balcony today, he knows that if he leaves the embassy he would be arrested by the British police on the charge of failing to surrender to a court. What is clear, however, is that he is likely never to face trial for rape.
The insouciance with which his remaining supporters treat this serious charge is appalling. It is politically motivated, they allege. He would not face a fair trial, they say. When your political world view leads you to accuse the Swedish justice system of being an arm of a US conspiracy, you need to consider whether you have stepped through the looking glass into a paranoid parallel universe. (And if the conspiracy against St Julian were so powerful, why would the British authorities not have simply gone into the embassy and apprehended him?)
In the absence of due legal process, it seems that a rough form of justice must suffice. Mr Assange has imprisoned himself for five years. Apart from his most committed supporters, who believes his protestation that he has been “detained without charge”? He is free to leave, but he must face the accusations against him. His reputation has suffered. Once a hero of transparency, he is now regarded as deluded apologist for some of the more sinister forces in the world. Many of the facts of the case that would have been heard in court have been aired. Most people have formed a view of his conduct, in some cases, both for and against, influenced by their view of his political activity. But when the best that your defenders can say is that you have been guilty of “bad sexual etiquette”, as George Galloway did, you are not in a good position.
Once upon a time, WikiLeaks, the subversive organisation set up by Mr Assange, did some valuable work in the name of openness. It exposed the Trafigura scandal of the dumping of toxic waste in Africa. From there WikiLeaks moved on to dumping diplomatic secrets online indiscriminately, which mostly embarrassed Middle Eastern leaders who didn’t want their urging of US action against Iran’s nuclear ambitions known. And then WikiLeaks appeared to be entangled in Russian interests, which ended up with its being considered party to interference in the American election – on the side of the authoritarian right.
In his rant against the European Union today, Mr Assange revealed the extent to which he has succumbed to the paranoid world view where the far left meets the far right.
How much better it would have been if the charges against Mr Assange in his personal life could have been tried in court. As it is, the rough justice of his self-incarceration is the best that his alleged victims can hope for – with the moral contamination of WikiLeaks’s once-noble mission an unfortunate side effect.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies