The Blog

Assange Should Face Sex Accusers if Serious About Political Career

No one of sentient mind could argue against Khan's assertion that the Swedish women have a right to have their day in court, no matter how spurious or politically motivated some might see their complaints. Assange should indeed face his accusers in their land.

Julian Assange's attempt to become a senator in his homeland of Australia may not be as bold as angering the American authorities over his mass cable releases, but it's certainly an indication that he seeks to remain in the spotlight, even if such machinations amount to little other than headline-grabbling capers.

What the 41-year-old WikiLeaks founder wants more than anything is to leave his self-imposed prison of the Ecuadorian embassy in London's Knightsbridge and feel the tickle of streaming air on his sun-starved face. The renegade website editor has been in the tiny mission for nearly nine months - fearful he may be extradited to the US from Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in relation to sexual-assault claims in 2010 by two women, after successive legal challenges in England failed - but there are scant signs that any gestation period that would allow him a rebirth into the outside world is anywhere close to coming to an end.

It's more than an international legal pickle Assange finds himself in. He can't take up asylum granted to him last August by the Ecuadorian government because police officers will nab him the moment he sets foot outside the embassy, hauling him to court for breaking bail during English extradition proceedings, with the possibility of a jail term under the Bail Act. So even the prospect of him facing the music - however discordant - in Stockholm remains relatively remote, were he to give up his current accommodation. Imprisonment of at least 12 months would rule out a political career in Australia and the feasible delays would render a run moot. So who's kidding who? It's fair to say, however, that Assange is going nowhere by staying where he is.

It must be of profound worry to the prematurely white-haired Assange that fervent supporters are now turning against him, even such high-profile disciples as the English socialite and journalist Jemima Khan, who is thought to have stumped up around £20,000 in lost bail cash and who this week wrote in the New Statesman that she had gone "from admiration to demoralisation" regarding Assange, and likened the messianic leaker to "an Australian L Ron Hubbard", the founder of the strange cult of Scientology. (In the same issue, an editorial called for Assange to "leave the Ecuadorean embassy without delay.")

"I have seen flashes of Assange's charm, brilliance and insightfulness - but I have also seen how instantaneous rock-star status has the power to make even the most clear-headed idealist feel that they are above the law and exempt from criticism", Khan writes, adding that she has concluded that Assange is damaging his credibility concerning openness and transparency, keywords of his whistleblowing operation, by hiding from Swedish law.

No one of sentient mind could argue against Khan's assertion that the Swedish women have a right to have their day in court, no matter how spurious or politically motivated some might see their complaints and, given that Sweden is bound by its extradition treaty with the United States not to hand over anyone who might face the death penalty, Assange should indeed face his accusers - or prosecutors' face-to-face questioning at the very least, in their land - and in so doing end the entire circus.

If it happens that he is not charged with sexual assault, or wins freedom following a trial, Assange could then give the studious focus that becoming a political representative demands. Because for now, it's nothing other than the fanciful reverie of a bored, if talented and ambitious, schoolboy.

It is true that Assange has support in Australia, and it's likely that proxies would go to the hustings for him, but even if he did win a seat on September 14 and remained holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy, unable to assume office, the whole exercise would have been one of extreme folly and harmful to the democratic process - because the seat would have to be vacated after two months of a no-show.

Quinton Clements, senior adviser to Australian Senate President John Hogg, told me that Australia's Constitution "contains various safeguards to ensure that members are accountable to their electors and not to any competing interest."

He said: "To guard against absentee representatives, there are also provisions for places to be vacated if a member fails to attend his or her House for two consecutive months of any session without leave from that House... Failure to take their seat would start the clock running on the absentee disqualification provision."

I asked the Australian writer and WikiLeaks supporter Antony Loewenstein how realistic Assange's run might be.

"The Assange run is a wild card - impossible to say at this stage how he will go. He won't personally campaign in Australia, of course, but a number of supporters will," he said.

"It's a rare situation for a candidate to run without being in the country and the logistics of this are tough, as is the reality if he wins. I'm encouraged by his campaign. His voice deserves to be heard. He's doing it to keep issues of freedom and democracy in the news, and I'm sure his own precarious situation."

Assange may have thought he was saving himself by walking into the Ecuadorean embassy last June, but the audacious act could just be the ruination of him, with political ambitions in tatters and court cases mounting, thereby critically damaging the integrity of an organisation he is melded with, one that once contained so much potential for informing the world about what really goes on.