With censorship comes tyranny

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Interview with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer

WSWS: You described the Assange case during the unveiling of the sculptures in front of the Brandenburg Gate as “the most important test case of our time”. Can you say a little more? What exactly do you mean by that?

Nils Melzer: The Western democracies, which call themselves mature democracies, have become very self-righteous. Especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall – we are sitting here in Berlin – and the end of the Cold War, they have been of the opinion that their political and economic system has won and is therefore incontestably the right and the best. In reality, however, we have become fair-weather democracies whose state institutions no longer function in critical situations because they no longer monitor each other. It is, however, absolutely crucial for the protection of the rule of law that the judiciary and parliament monitor the government and intervene in cases of abuse of power and hold politicians and authorities accountable. This no longer works today, especially where the fundamental interests of the economic and political establishment are at stake.

WSWS: And the media…

Nils Melzer: The media are actually the fourth power in the state that is supposed to look at the functioning of the separation of powers from the outside and if it fails, the alarm bells would ring. But the mainstream media no longer do this, because they themselves have become part of the establishment. They profit from it, they are dependent on it. The same applies to many of the major human rights organisations. At least to some extent one gets the impression that they have also become part of the establishment. They are supported by large donations and are dependent on the states and are therefore not prepared to lean too far out of the window and take uncomfortable positions that could cost money above all.

In this context, where the monitoring of the state power is no longer given, neither by the political institutions nor by the media, an organization like Wikileaks came up and tried to take over this function. This is as logical as it is essential in terms of democracy, the rule of law and state policy. Certain practices of Wikileaks may have been questionable. The Internet is an area which is difficult to regulate and which, in addition to freedom of information, also entails major risks which must be dealt with appropriately. But the fundamental function that Wikileaks has assumed, namely the detection of abuse of power and corruption, is indispensable for state policy.

How we deal with this question is a political test case. How do we deal with the fact that our governments are suddenly under surveillance again? No longer by the institutions originally created for this purpose, but by the public. At the moment, we are seeing those who have unsupervised power resisting by any means that they have to submit to surveillance again. The States are following Assange to set an example. They want to show what happens when their power is called into question. That is the point. I would like to remind you very clearly that, as a result of the revelations, not a single criminal case has been brought against those who committed the crimes revealed. That in itself is proof of the lack of good faith on the part of these states. Even war crimes are no longer punished, but all those who bring such crimes to light are persecuted and destroyed.

I would like to give an example that shows how far the West has fallen behind today. A few months ago, two journalists were pardoned in Myanmar. They had been sentenced to several years in prison for revealing a massacre of civilians by the Myanmar armed forces. At the same time, the soldiers involved in the massacre were pardoned. However, Myanmar had previously sentenced these soldiers to ten years in prison and imprisoned them until they were pardoned. In this respect, even Myanmar is miles ahead of the West. Neither the Americans nor the British have yet done that. On the contrary, both governments refuse to prosecute the involvement of their own agents and soldiers in the CIA’s torture and extradition programme.

We simply have to be aware that what we have achieved over the last 200 years cannot be taken for granted. We are about to slide back into the 18th century. Today, of course, this manifests itself in a different form. They are no longer people with crowns on horses with soldiers riding ahead. Today they are sitting in large hotel towers and accumulating grotesque fortunes of tens of billions, while their employees are often unable to live on their wages and are dependent on social welfare. And these people rule us. We elect our representatives to Parliament, but these representatives do not carry out the will of the people, but that of the lobbies. And the lobbies are controlled by those who control the economic resources, that is, by a tiny minority of the world’s population who have little to do with sustainability, justice and the general interest. We must slowly become aware of how the system really works and the danger it poses for our future, our human dignity and our human rights.

Excerpt from the article: UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer: “Censorship inevitably leads to tyranny”.


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