Julian Assange's 1000 days in the embassy: It's the man, not his cause, that is flawed

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government.

Police keep guard outside the Embassy of Ecuador in London

I remember as a teenager being proud that Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister, was strong enough to reject US overtures to send British troops to Vietnam and that Sweden was the premier European country that readily accepted American army draft dodgers and stood firm in refusing to extradite them back to the States.

Many Swedes, including those who now are in power in the country both politically and in the judiciary, look back with a justifiable sense of achievement about how their country refused to bow to the power of the US, which makes the position of Julian Assange, the self-aggrandising head of Wikileaks, even more unsustainable.

Assange published the revelations of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, who between them blew the lid off US intelligence and defence operations around the world. Manning, as a serving soldier, is now in prison in America while Snowden has sought sanctuary in Russia to escape prosecution even though there is a fair chance that he could be granted whistleblower status in his home country and stay a free man.

Assange and Wikileaks should be, and have been, applauded for their revelations, which have won Pulitzer Prizes for the newspapers that published them, but in praising the achievements the frailty of Assange the man cannot be overlooked.

When publicising the work of Wikileaks in Sweden, Assange became involved with two women and both of them lodged complaints with the police about sexual assault after he had left the country to return to the UK.

Sweden asked Assange to return and face questioning about the allegations. Prosecutors wanted to determine if there was enough evidence for him to face charges. Assange refused, asserting that if he went back to Sweden the US authorities would try to extradite him to America and lock him up and throw away the key for jeopardising their intelligence gathering.

Patent nonsense. Sweden has its proud history of standing up to the US and would be unlikely to kowtow, even if the US made the extradition bid, but Assange stood firm and used every level of the law in the UK to fight being returned to Sweden.

He had powerful supporters who stood up in the High Court and backed a claim for bail with many thousands of pounds and even gave him sanctuary as he fought the case. At every legal turn British judges asserted that he should return to Sweden to answer questions and just when it was about to happen, Assange jumped bail, took refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy and 1000 days later he is still there.

From inside the embassy Assange is still making claims that he faces the full fury of the US if he agrees to go to Sweden. The authorities in Stockholm have rejected this but still he refuses to accept that like every other person he has to live within the law.

It has cost the UK up to £10m to keep police outside the Ecuadorian embassy to make sure Assange does not escape and make his way out of the country, and there are some who say this is money down the drain. Not so. He has broken the law in this country by breaking the terms of his bail agreement and in doing so spat in the face of people who supported him with their trust and money.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, Swedish police are now willing to send officers to the UK to question Assange about the sex claims. But even if they find there is no case to answer, he will face jail time in Britain for breaking bail.

There are demonstrations being held on the anniversary of Assange's 1000 days on the run in the Ecuadoran Embassy but they are misplaced. By all means back Assange and Wikileaks for pulling back the curtain on the secret activities of governments. But this must not be conflated with crimes against the person, attempting to use due process and then rejecting judges and the law.

Assange, for all that he has done, cannot be allowed to be above the law.

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government

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