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Editorial: Punishing Assange is about silencing criticism of a sick world order

PRITI PATEL’S decision to approve the extradition of Julian Assange is an attack on press freedom which will have grave consequences for journalists everywhere.

As unions rally for the first national TUC demonstration in years, we must be clear that the government’s attacks on democracy are aimed at suppressing the labour movement — and that the state persecution of Assange is part of that attack on democracy.

Unions are mobilising because workers are being systematically robbed. As new research from Unite proves, the soaring inflation hitting working-class households in the pocket is directly linked to the swelling profits of giant corporations. 

Yet the governor of the Bank of England who calls for pay restraint is not calling for profit restraint.

This robbery has been going on a long time. Since the 1970s the share of Britain’s national output paid in wages has shrunk and that taken in profit has grown. 

And people have had enough. Serious disaffection with the system has been clear for years.

It was expressed by some in the vote to leave the European Union. It was expressed too in the flocking of hundreds of thousands to join the Labour Party when it was socialist-led from 2015.

A concerted effort by both main parties in Parliament, almost the whole media and parts of the permanent state saw that off. But the pandemic has only heightened the tension between rulers and ruled. 

After “clap for carers” and the rhetoric of collective sacrifice, we clock the reality of 170,000 unnecessary deaths while our political masters broke the rules and exploited the crisis to lavish public money on their friends. And now they talk of pay restraint and “greedy” trade unionists fighting to save their jobs and inflation-proof their wages.

Westminster knows the mood is for change. It knows too that in many workplaces unions are fighting and winning.

Its answer is repression. 

Legislation to imprison protesters for up to 10 years if the police deem their protest a “serious nuisance.” New powers to stop and search, extended use of tasers. The bans on unauthorised gatherings will be used to arrest pickets if the employer complains they are causing “serious disruption.”

Its answer is also propaganda. 

The monopoly media bombarded socialist-led Labour with lies and smears for five years until it went down to defeat in 2019. Now it is used to demonise trade unionists and misrepresent strikes, just as it is being used to demonise asylum-seekers and promote our government’s appalling attack on refugee rights.

The elite have seized on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to further entrench their total media dominance. 

A crackdown on “disinformation” is an excuse for the handful of digital giants — Google, Facebook, YouTube — to shut down critical voices and platforms on a vast scale. 

In British politics the “Russia threat” is used to attack the peace movement and narrow still further the range of acceptable political views to those which question nothing of significance about our state, our foreign policy or our economic system.

So we come to Assange. It is not convenient for those who claim there is “no equivalence” between Nato and Russia that WikiLeaks has published thousands of documents detailing war crimes, the massacre of civilians, murder by drone, the extrajudicial killing of prisoners by the United States and its allies in multiple recent wars.

Assange must be punished. For publishing information he was given about the actions of a state of which he is not a citizen, he is to be shipped to the United States and thrown into prison for 175 years.

It’s a warning to all journalists of whatever country. It will cow journalism everywhere and help the powerful to cover up their crimes. It is a step along the path of absolute Establishment control of the narratives we are permitted to watch, read and listen to.

It must be stopped.

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