Assange, Free Speech in Peril

Assange in Peril

By Dr. Ron Paul

More than seven years ago, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was granted asylum by the government of Ecuador over fears that espionage charges were being prepared against him by Washington. He spent those years in a small room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London without sunlight. Without fresh air. Without exercise. Without medical treatment.

Assange’s critics mocked him for entering the embassy, saying his fear that the U.S. government would indict him was paranoia. Then the U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund dangled a $4 billion loan in front of Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno (elected in 2017, replacing the president who granted Assange asylum), and Moreno eagerly handed Assange over to British authorities who the same day hauled him before the court to answer for skipping bail. No medical examination after what was seven years of house arrest. Straight to court. He was sentenced to 50 weeks—the maximum sentence.

And what happened while he was serving time in the notorious Belmarsh prison? The Trump administration decided to go where the Obama Administration before him did not dare to tread: He was indicted on 17 counts under the U.S. Espionage Act and now faces 170 years in prison—or worse—once the formality of his extradition hearing is over. He faces life in prison for acting as a journalist—publishing information about the U.S. government that is clearly in the public interest.

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But do they really want to put him up on trial?

When U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier died in a wretched North Korean prison cell after being denied proper medical treatment, the Western world was disgusted by Pyongyang’s disregard for basic human rights. Now we have Julian Assange reportedly too sick to even appear by video at his own court hearings. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer has investigated the treatment of Assange over the past nine years and has determined that the journalist has been the “victim of brutal psychological torture.”

Melzer concluded, “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence, and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize, and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for . . . the rule of law.”

Governments hate it when the truth is told about them. They prefer to kill the messenger than face the message.

Judge Andrew Napolitano wrote last week that, “the whole purpose of the First Amendment . . . is to promote and provoke open, wide, robust political debate about the policies of the government.”

We need to understand that it is our First Amendment that is on trial right there along with Assange. The Obama administration—no defenders of civil liberties—wanted to prosecute Assange but determined that his “crime” was the same kind of journalism that the U.S. mainstream media engages in every day.

Let’s hope President Donald Trump recovers from his amnesia—on the campaign trail he praised WikiLeaks more than 100 times but now claims to know nothing about them—and orders his attorney general to stand down. Assange deserves our gratitude, not a lifetime in prison.

Ron Paul, a former U.S. representative from Texas and medical doctor, continues to write his weekly column for the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, online at