John Oliver Defends WikiLeaks Julian Assange

On Sunday night, John Oliver dedicated much of the opening to his post-Game of Thrones final season premiere episode to the expulsion and arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Yes, the Last Week Tonight host tackled Assanges expulsion from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where hes spent the last six-plus years, and subsequent arrest by British authorities, jokingly branding the hacker-turned-publisher the most controversial Australian export since Vegemite.

After running a montage of cable-news coverage of Assange being hauled out of the embassy, much of which focused on Assanges bearded, disheveled appearance, he remarked, Thats a weird tone to take on a story thats this important. Yes, his arrest sparks a difficult debate about the efficacy of journalistic protections in the age of cyberespionage, but look how bad he looks!

But look, Oliver continued, this is a big deal.

Oliver then went over some of the reasons Ecuadorian officials gave for booting Assange from their embassy, including causing damage by skateboarding through the halls, stealing WiFi, hosting soccer matches, and bad hygieneincluding (allegedly) smearing feces on walls.

It is easy to dislike Julian Assange, offered Oliver. He first fled to the embassy to escape extradition to Sweden on rape chargescharges he denied. Alongside the valuable information that WikiLeaks has helped release, theyve also recklessly published the sensitive personal data of hundreds of ordinary people, potentially putting lives at risk. And thats not even getting into the fact that WikiLeaks publication of hacked emails in 2016 helped elect Trump president.

He added: You are allowed not to like him, but Americas current attempts to extradite him hang on a specific charge that many press advocates find unsettling.

The U.S. Department of Justice is trying to extradite Assange on charges of conspiracy for allegedly helping Chelsea Manning crack a password in order to gain access to the Pentagons computer network. The charge relates to Assanges alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States, theDOJ said in a press release.

This worries Oliver. On its face, it currently seems more than a little flimsyprompting the Committee to Protect Journalists to call it troubling for press freedom, because the indictments language seems to criminalize a broad range of legally protected and common journalistic activity, the HBO host explained.

And while it is still early at this point, and we dont know what else Assange might be charged withor even if the U.K. might extradite him at allthis story is worrying for a number of reasons, he argued. One, because journalistic freedoms may be under threat; and two, unfortunately, in order to protect them, we may be forced to utter the one phrase in the English language scarier than Halloween Brexit, and thats: Im really sorry, everyone, but it might actually be time to defend Julian Assange.

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