WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange risks turning from a popular hero into an L. Ron Hubbard figure, tolerating only “blinkered, cultish devotion”, said one his former backers Jemima Khan.
Claiming Assange had alienated his supporters, Khan, associate editor of the New Statesman, wrote for the weekly British magazine that Assange’s anti-secrecy organisation was now “guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as those it sought to expose”.
She compared the Australian to US science-fiction author Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology.
Assange has been holed up inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London after losing his battle in the British courts against extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault. Ecuador has granted him political asylum.
By jumping bail, the 41-year-old surrendered the £200,000 ($315,000, 230,000 euros) that supporters including Khan had put up as a surety.
Khan — daughter of the late financier James Goldsmith and former wife of Imran Khan, the Pakistan cricket captain turned political leader — was an executive producer of “We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks”, Alex Gibney’s documentary about the whistle-blowing website.
“The problem with Camp Assange is that, in the words of (former US president) George W. Bush, it sees the world as being ‘with us or against us’,” wrote Khan.
“When I told Assange I was part of the ‘We Steal Secrets’ team, I suggested that he view it not in terms of being pro- or anti-him, but rather as a film that would be fair and would represent the truth.
“He replied: ‘If it’s a fair film, it will be pro-Julian Assange.’ Beware the celebrity who refers to himself in the third person.
“In many ways, the film’s narrative arc mirrors my own journey with Assange, from admiration to demoralisation.
“The list of alienated and disaffected allies is long: some say they fell out over redactions, some over broken deals, some over money, some over ownership and control.”
Khan said she felt passionately that democracy needs strong, free media and remained convinced that were Assange prosecuted for espionage then investigative journalism would be in jeopardy.
She said it remains to be seen if the allegations against Assange can be substantiated in the Swedish courts but the former computer hacker is “undermining both himself and his own transparency agenda” by turning his refusal to go to Sweden “into a human rights issue”.
“We all want a hero,” she wrote.
“It would be a tragedy if a man who has done so much good were to end up tolerating only disciples and unwavering devotion, more like an Australian L. Ron Hubbard.”