Journalism Itself Is Locked Up In Belmarsh

Caitlin Johnstone
3 min readOct 5, 2023

Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

As the 17th anniversary of the creation of WikiLeaks passes us by, it’s probably worth taking a moment to reflect on Julian Assange and what his persecution means for us and our society.

Because in a very real sense, it’s not just a man locked up in Belmarsh Prison for the crime of good journalism — it’s journalism itself. It’s the idea that anyone should be permitted to expose the criminality of the world’s most powerful and tyrannical people. It’s the idea that the public should be allowed to know what abuses the US empire is committing around the world.

Julian Assange is the world’s greatest journalist. By revolutionizing source protection for the digital age with the creation of WikiLeaks 17 years ago and then going on to break some of the biggest stories of the 21st century, Assange set himself head and shoulders above any other living reporter anywhere on earth. And by showing the world that they can lock up the world’s greatest journalist for revealing inconvenient truths, they are showing the world that they can lock up anyone.

That’s what this case has always been about. It’s not about whether Assange crossed some arbitrary procedural line when working with Chelsea Manning to expose US war crimes. It’s not about the US protecting its national security. It’s not about any of the other justifications people have put forward to excuse their sycophantic support for the persecution of a journalist for doing journalism. It’s about setting a legal precedent that will allow the US empire to extradite anyone anywhere in the world who reveals inconvenient facts about it. It’s about showing all journalists everywhere that if they can do it to the greatest among them, they can do it to any of them. And, like so much else in the world today, it’s about narrative control.

To accept the persecution of Julian Assange is to accept the idea that all media everywhere must function as propaganda organs of the US government. It’s to take it as a given that any journalist anywhere in the world who decides to do real journalism and expose inconvenient facts about the powerful in the public interest should be jailed until they can be extradited to the United States for a show trial, and then left to rot in one of the most draconian prison systems on the planet. It’s to accept that we will never live in a truth-based society guided by facts and information, and must forever resign ourselves to living in a society dominated by the whims of the powerful.

Your position on the Assange case is therefore your position on what kind of society we should hope to live in, and what kind of future we should hope to have. In a very real way, it’s your position on humanity itself.

Should humanity try to create a better world, or should we keep plunging into dystopia until we are driven into nuclear war or environmental catastrophe by rulers we are forbidden to question? Do we want to move into the light, or into the darkness? Your position on Assange shows your answer to these questions, and shows which course you want us to take.

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