Witch-hunts, silly idiots, and witch-hunting silly, idiotic governments

Julien Assange and Pussy Riot members

Agitators? Dissidents? Public activists? Government martyrs?

I have followed two apparently unrelated stories with more of a passing interest than in exhaustively informing myself about every convoluted detail. First, the continuing case of Julien Assange; and, more recently, that of Pussy Riot.

Two very different sets of circumstances have led to what looks like excessive zeal by prosecutors and the murky state apparatus that lies behind, and supports them.

Julien Assange and Wikileaks

Assange is, on the face of it, legally subject to extradition from the UK to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault, accusations he denies. What lies behind his desperate attempts to avoid this process? The fear (as he portrays it) that a vengeful US administration will pounce on Sweden (and Assange) to extradite him to their sacred soil, in order to face charges relating to the activities and exposures of Wikileaks (they are already enthusiastically mistreating a Wikilleaks alleged informant, hapless Bradley Manning). As we all know, the release online of thousands of so-called classified diplomatic documents wound up  so many powerful Americans into a complete frenzy.

Assange, therefore, rightly fears that he could face the death penalty in the US. No wonder he’s ended up taking the desperate measure of seeking (and obtaining) asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, despite that country’s dubious record of observing and respecting human rights such as Assange seems to espouse.

Now, the immediate diplomatic furore and standoff involves UK and Ecuador (and supportive South American states). The UK invokes a specific national law in an attempt to override the Geneva Convention, internationally applicable, it seems, to such cases.

I have no idea how this will turn out: will Assange be arrested (even by force) and sent to Sweden, as the UK Foreign Minister insists is the correct legal position? How could Ecuador smuggle him out of UK territory diplomatically? So many questions… And, all of this provoked by the spectre of the American hard-hatted system of so-called justice, that is (in the 21st. century) seen as primitive and vengeful by so many international observers.

Nadezhda, Yekaterina and Maria (aka Pussy Riot members)

Who was actually on trial in the Pussy Riot case? The three girls indicted (a fourth who participated in that performance in a church was not)? Putin? The Russian Orthodox Church? The hard-pressed opposition movement? All very foggy.

The indictment of these women, back in June, supported by a 2,800 page document, started an international buzz (at least). The subsequent 8-day trial, punctuated by Putin’s publicly stating they should be given a ‘lenient’ sentence for what most people see as a rather silly act, reached a climax as the verdict was announced – 2 years’ imprisonment for each of the three accused. Leniency – they could have faced a 7-year sentence for their alleged offences.

Human rights organisations, media worldwide, international political figures and bodies (including Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry), have all condemned Putin’s idea of ‘leniency’. A naive and stupid performance’ that lasted for less than a minute gets you 2 years in jail. But a whole load of world attention, too – just as is the case with Assange.

Something in common

“All three [re Pussy Riot] were found to suffer from a “mixed-personality disorder,” a condition that included different combinations of a “proactive approach to life,” “a drive for self-fulfilment,” “stubbornly defending their opinion,” “inflated self-esteem,” “inclination to opposition behavior,” and “propensity for protest reactions.” (according to The New York Times [spelling amended to UK English]).

Some of the features (and possible weaknesses) of so-called democratic rights or privileges? Valid in both cases? I really like the fault of “stubbornly defending their opinion”!


As another family member wisely observed today, (a) the USA does not deny the veracity of what Wikileaks published and (b) what happened to the unresolved investigations in Russia of so many assassinated journalists?

Are the real underlying questions not worthy of significantly more attention by both the media and by us citizens? Or, are we always to fall for the overt, crude, unsubtle machinations of politicians, whether in Sweden, UK, Ecuador or Russia? Not to mention the overt and equally unsubtle actions and words of a few self-appointed martyrs? Where’s the acceptable balance?

Where does true justice lie, and who decides what that should be – Putin, Hague, Obama? Or, should we, the ‘umble public, enjoy and appreciate a more open, less secretive, less oppressive any conniving form of government, wherever we may live?

Further reading

As always, there are acres / decares of print available. Why not check out two reports by BBC online [1,2] below; a complete transcript of Assange’s ‘embassy speech’; and the recent entries of bloggers Crawford and Murray [4,5] for some diplomatic niceties? Some of the more analytical surveys of these recent cases of media hysteria, perhaps.

[1]: BBC online

[2]: BBC online

[3]: The Independent

[4]: Craig Murray

[5]: Charles Crawford


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