I sadly couldn’t make it to see Assange speak last night due to accidentally double-booking myself with someone, but this Cherwell report offering the arguments of protesters is worth rebutting. Just take the first guy, who seems genuinely startled that despite allegations of rape, the Union deemed it proper to allow Assange to speak on the distinct matter of free information and government transparency, allegedly thereby endorsing the conspiracy theories that claim the rape claims were concocted.
Bullshit. It’s plain that no such conspiracy is entailed by the Union’s decision. But more than that, I feel very strongly that allegations could never suffice to render someone’s appearance improper. This is emphatically not to say that he is probably innocent. I do believe the chances that the women are lying are sufficiently minimal as to be disregarded. But I say that as an individual making a personal judgement. That’s obviously consistent with the claim that the criminal justice system should stick by historical precedent and consider him innocent until proven otherwise. That sort of institutional, liberal check on state power stands strong for good reason. And insofar as it holds, the Union is perfectly justified in treating him similarly and granting the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to start sliding down the slope which leads to institutions assessing the probability of a person’s guilt before any trials and charges and barring them from speaking simply on the basis of allegations accordingly.
A little later on, we have someone asking how Assange can be a symbol of integrity when he refuses to face Sweden’s questioning. Well, if you were in the chamber rather than protesting at the gates, perhaps you could have asked him and found out. But this is an utter non-sequitur. It does nothing to justify not allowing him to talk about the topic he is rightly interesting and famous for. And what’s more, the presupposition that he refuses questioning isn’t even perfectly true, as I noted the other week:
Note, he has not been charged with any crime, he has offered to face questioning immediately within the Embassy, and he has offered to travel to Sweden if they will guarantee that he will not be passed on to the Americans after. Sweden refused, and this is thus his professed motivating fear. It’s hard not to forgive paranoia when the country you live in considers violating all diplomatic precedents in the name of making you answer questions by storming an Embassy, and when Bradley Manning is tortured by American authorities on a daily basis.
Previous thoughts on this matter here.