Dear Staff of Belmarsh,

A lot of other people are writing to politicians, elected representatives, celebrities, and other people who have “platforms” or “influence.” I’ve decided to write to you.

You are no doubt aware that there is a man being held in your prison by the name of Julian Assange. I am sure that you are also aware that a great many people believe this that he should not be there, or in any prison. They (and I) believe that the only crime he has committed is having revealed actual crimes committed by people and institutions much more powerful than himself.

We further believe that the only reason he is being held–and held at a time when other non-violent prisoners are being released in order to help minimize the spread of Covid-19–the only reason the most powerful government on earth has contorted the justice system of your own country to the point that it is no longer recognizable as such, is that that government (the government of my country) wishes to send a strong message to anyone else who ever thinks about making its crimes public:

“We can do whatever we want, to whomever we want. We are bound by no laws, no justice system, and if you dare to expose our crimes to the world as this man has, we will do this to you too.”

I am not going to repeat all of the charges against him, nor explain why they are nonsensical. Nor will I dwell on his treatment in prison, which according to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, constitutes torture. Nor will I take apart the various smears against him. Others have done a very good job of all of those things already, as you can read here, here, and here. You can also read detailed accounts of the mockery that his hearings have made of British Justice, with representatives of the US government almost literally pulling strings attached to the person of magistrate Vanessa Baraitser.

You can read all of that for yourselves, and I hope that you will. I will only say this:

There is a long-standing tradition in Western culture of honoring disobedience to immoral laws. In my own country, this tradition was upheld by abolitionists who defied the Fugitive Slave Acts and helped escaped slaves get to freedom; It was upheld at the Nuremberg trials after World War II, when some German officers were hanged for obeying laws that violated more fundamental principles of human rights; And it is enshrined in something much older, known as the “Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates.”

This doctrine dates back to at least 39AD, and was formally articulated by Christian pastors in the Magdeberg Confession of 1550. It can be summed up as follows:

When those in high authority command that those beneath them enforce laws that are immoral or unjust, those authorities beneath them have a duty to refuse to enforce those laws, and if necessary to actively resist them.

The persecution of Julian Assange is a grotesque abomination of justice. And it represents a direct assault on our ability to hold our governments accountable for their actions. If the government of the United States succeeds in extraditing Julian Assange, or if he is allowed to die in prison in the UK, then we will have lost much more than the life of one man. We will have allowed the most powerful government on earth to cement its lawless rule over us all, to effectively prohibit free and open discourse about its actions in our societies.

So why am I writing to you? Because I don’t believe in politicians. I don’t believe that “elected representatives” really represent anyone other than themselves and the people who keep them in power. But, strangely, I do believe in people. Not all of them of course. There are good people and there are bad people. But I do believe, very strongly, that out of all the people who happen to work at Belmarsh prison, there are some good ones. How many, I don’t know. Maybe a hundred? Maybe thirty? A dozen? Three or four? Maybe just one.

However many of you there are, you are the ones I am speaking to. I believe that there is something you can do–one of you, some of you, all of you–although I can’t say for sure what it might be, to change how this story ends. I am writing to remind you of the Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates, and to urge you to do the right thing. Not only for Julian Assange, but for all of us. Our history is quite literally in your hands.

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