Last night I caught someone droning on about the similarities between the case of Pussy Riot and Julian Assange, and that with the right of freedom of speech comes the responsibility for responsible use of that right. I very quickly turned off as any comparison is ridiculous.
Pussy Riot are in prison today as a direct consequence of their attempted use of their right of free speech; whereas Julian Assange at most is facing legal trouble as an indirect consequence of his use of the right of free speech. Certainly on the face of it, Julian Assange’s legal troubles have nothing to do with the Wikileaks website.
It is certainly true that Pussy Riot’s actions inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow was to some extent ill-advised. They could well be guilty of some sort of aggravated trespass crime, but it would seem to me that they are being punished for something else – their imprisonment for 2 years is by far out of proportion to what they have done. And it appears that even the victim (the church) also believes this is excessive as they have asked for leniency.
It is true that insulting someone’s religion in their place of worship is perhaps going too far for a protest, and perhaps should be punishable by a couple of days in prison. But sending them to prison for two years looks to everyone like an excuse to put them away to stop them protesting against Putin‘s autocratic rule. The funny thing is that Putin’s minions could not have done something more effective at demonstrating that his regime is a repressive one.
Julian Assange on the other hand is effectively charged (the UK courts have made it plain that he can be regarded as being charged with the crime even though a peculiarity of the Swedish justice system means he hasn’t as yet been charged) with some sort of sexual misconduct. Which on the face of it has absolutely nothing to do with his Wikileaks activities. Whilst there may be some oddities about the case, the only possible action for an honourable man would be to go to Sweden to answer the charges.
The conspiracy theorists would argue that this is all just a way of the US getting their hands on Julian Assange to rush through their own court system to punish him for “treason”, espionage, or some other crime. It is highly unlikely that Julian could be legally extradited for treason (which is likely to cause a considerable amount of laughter considering that Julian is no a US citizen) or espionage (which is after all at an international level purely a political crime). But it is just about possible that there is some US involvement in the charges he faces in Sweden – perhaps simply as a way of harassing someone whom the US government has a certain amount of anger with.
It is really rather extraordinary that Julian is claiming political asylum with Ecuador in preference to relying on the justice systems in the UK and Sweden; frankly he has better protection in either Sweden or the UK from any US actions than he would do in Ecuador which although has granted him asylum for publicity reasons is far more likely to let the US quietly grab him in exchange for a few billion in foreign aid.