In December 2018, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, received an email from a group of lawyers headed “Julian Assange is seeking your protection”. Melzer, a Swiss international lawyer, asked himself: “Was this not the founder of WikiLeaks, the shady hacker with the white hair and the leather jacket who was hiding out in an embassy somewhere because of rape allegations?” As he recalls,
I was overtaken by a host of disparaging thoughts and almost reflexive feelings of rejection. Assange? No, I certainly would not be manipulated by this guy.
Three months later, Assange’s legal team contacted him again. Ecuador intended to expel Assange from its embassy in London, where he had taken refuge in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden and from there to the US. “A question started forming in my mind”, Melzer writes in The Trial of Julian Assange: A story of persecution. “Had I overlooked something when I dismissed this case the last time around?” Thus began a two-year investigation that uncovered the lengths to which the US – and the UK, Sweden and Ecuador – went to silence and punish Assange. Melzer changed his mind. This book should change others’.
The story begins in 2006, when Assange, together with fellow tech prodigies and free-speech advocates, founded WikiLeaks as a safe depository for inside sources to reveal wrongdoing without fear of retribution. Encryption prevented governments and corporations, not to mention WikiLeaks itself, from detecting the identities of whistleblowers, thereby protecting them from prosecutions of the kind that tormented many who had confided in traditional media, among them the Foreign and Commonwealth Office official Sarah Tisdall, who was jailed in 1984 for leaking British government documents to the Guardian, and the GCHQ translator Katharine Gun, who in 2003 was charged under the Official Secrets Act for leaking top-secret information to the Observer. A year into its existence, WikiLeaks published the US army’s protocols for detainee treatment at Camp Delta in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, including the denial of access to Red Cross delegates. It also released documents related to the ruling Moi family’s corruption in Kenya. In 2008 came the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s emails, then in 2009 intercepts of government pager messages about the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001. It was a measure of the trust sources placed in WikiLeaks that so many were…
Read the full review in the Times Literary Supplement here.
THE TRIAL OF JULIAN ASSANGE
A story of persecution
368pp. Verso. Paperback, £11.99.
WikiLeaks and its enemies
368pp. Pluto Press. Paperback, £14.99.
STATE OF SILENCE
The Espionage Act and the rise of America’s secrecy regime
464pp. Basic. $32.50.
Main image: Activists supporting Julian Assange in London’s Piccadilly Circus with banners declaring ‘Free Assange’ and ‘2023 – Time to Set Him Free!’, 29 July 2023 © Alisdare Hickson, Wikimedia Commons.