The modern detainee in a political sense has to be understood in the abstract. Those who take to feats of hacking, publishing and articulating positions on the issue of institutional secrets have become something of a species, not as rare as they once were, but no less remarkable for that fact. And what a hounded species at that.
Across the globe prisons are now peopled by traditional, and in some instances, unconventional journalists, who have found themselves in the possession of classified material. In one specific instance, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks stands tall, albeit in limited space, within the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
Unlawful imprisonment and arbitrary detention are treated by black letter lawyers with a crystal clarity that would disturb novelists and lay people; lawyers, in turn, are sometimes disturbed by the inventive ways a novelist, or litterateur type, might interpret detention. The case of Assange, shacked and hemmed in a small space at the mercy of his hosts who did grant him asylum, then citizenship, has never been an easy one to explain to either. Ever murky, and ever nebulous, his background and circumstances inspires polarity rather than accord.
What matters on the record is that Assange has been deemed by the United Nations Working Group in Arbitrary Detention to be living under conditions that amount to arbitrary detention. He is not, as the then foreign secretary of the UK, Philip Hammond claimed in 2016, “a fugitive…