Can you be a feminist and support Julian Assange?

Kitty-Jean Laginha takes a critical feminist perspective on the Assange saga, using a Harry Potter analogy

Julian Assange In Court For His Extradition Hearing

“Laws can be changed,” said Fudge savagely.

“Of course they can,” said Dumbledore, inclining his head. “And you certainly seem to be making many changes, Cornelius. Why, in the few short weeks since I was asked to leave the Wizengamot, it has already become the practice to hold a full criminal trial to deal with a simple matter of underage magic!”

Harry Potter produces the Patronus charm in order to defend himself and his muggle cousin Dudley from Dementors when they appear in the town of Little Whingeing on August 2, 1995. Ten days later, Harry is tried by the full Wizengamot (high court of law) on a charge of violating the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, which permits witches and wizards from using magic in the presence of muggles. The aggressiveness with which the case is pursued is oddly disproportionate to the charge, hinting that something more sinister is at play. The Ministry of Magic’s politically motivated prosecution (as well as ongoing malicious defamation of Harry and his supporters) bears likeness to the zealous persecution of Julian Assange, who is still residing in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, having been granted political asylum. Of course, the crimes alleged (Harry’s self-defence and Assange engaging in coercive sex with women) are completely different – there’s no comparison. But an analogy can be drawn between the motivations behind the inconsistent, drawn-out prosecution and what this might suggest about corruption and the application of the law.

Let’s be honest, the Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge isn’t concerned about risking the security of the magical world. Rather, the trial is the Ministry’s embarrassing attempt to discredit Harry in any way they can. Harry’s claim that Voldemort has returned to power is a big nuisance for Fudge and the ministry, and so they drag him through the wizarding criminal justice system in the hopes that he will shut up and be expelled from Hogwarts.

Abuses of the justice system by the political elite are present in the case of Assange v. Swedish Prosecution Authority. Regardless of whether or not Assange is guilty of sexual misconduct, it doesn’t take a mind trained in legilimency to see that it is not the real reason he is being pursued. The whole case is incredibly dubious given, for one thing, how profoundly differently other accusations of this nature are and have been dealt with in Sweden. Other more serious and clear cut cases of rape, assault and human trafficking receive nowhere near the amount of official support. This glaring contrast is a point surely worth making whether or not you think Assange is an anti-American anarchist, badass hacker extraordinaire or a “high-tech terrorist” (in the words of US VP Biden).

As a woman, it’s with intense frustration that I see the issue of sexual violence being used to further political agendas. Having the audacity to manipulate rape allegations at will (in order to extradite Assange to the US) reveals how little they truly care about violence against women. It is incredibly insulting to all sexual assault victims (especially those who still await justice in Sweden) and does nothing but cheapen what is a serious and extremely prevalent issue. Claims of rape and sexual assault should never be used as political tools.

The case becomes even more dubious looking at how Chelsea Manning was treated before her sentencing. Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified military and diplomatic documents showing immense injustice, deception, sexual abuse and war crimes to Wikileaks. She spent over a thousand days in prison without trial. It seems to me that the US were scrambling to prepare a case, attempting to use Manning to implicate Assange in order to create grounds to charge him with espionage – if they are alleging espionage they need evidence of espionage and can do so if they can prove that Assange colluded with Manning by persuading or requesting the information.

She is now in prison and Assange has been holed up in the embassy since 2012, wanted for questioning (he hasn’t been charged) in Sweden. The obvious question still hangs in the air: why can’t the Swedish authorities question him in London, or via video-link, like Assange and his lawyer have repeatedly suggested? The obvious answer is that they wants him to go to Sweden as then he may be able to be extradited to the US to face potential espionage charges.

In 2008, two years before the release of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and diplomatic cables, the Pentagon created a secret report which proclaimed Wikileaks to be an enemy of the state and suggested ways to destroy its credibility and reputation. This is quite interesting considering that it turns out Umbridge sent the Dementors to either kill or harm Harry into silence, or to provoke him to react illegally. This is may not be an apt metaphor in all respects, but one parallel does resonate ominously: governments pursue personal attacks to destabilise people or organisations that threaten powerful institutions. Of course, Fudge’s motivations are perhaps more innocent – he’s just plain stupid, power-hungry and delusional. His fear and denial that Voldemort has returned to power, combined with paranoia that Dumbledore is after his job makes him blind to the truth and he abuses his position by damaging the reputation of Harry and his supporters.

But this critical interpretation of the corrupt motivations of the prosecution doesn’t exclude applying feminist principles, of which solidarity with the women is paramount. Just because the case is politically motivated doesn’t mean the allegations are trivial. If the women say he did do those things, then he did. I’m not surprised; I imagine Assange probably does have unhealthy and harmful attitudes to women and sex in virtue of toxic male-socialisation. No surprises there. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the case seems to have never been genuinely based on the needs and wants of the women involved. For instance, one of the women did not actually initially intend to press charges (she wanted him to take an STI test) until she was contacted by the police.

Justice isn’t being sought for the sake of the women involved, that’s for sure.