For years she was his most faithful and high-profile supporter, even putting up a reported £20,000 toward his £200,000 bail.
But now, it seems, the romance between millionaire activist Jemima Khan and the fair-haired founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has broken down irrevocably, after Khan penned a scathing piece in a British political magazine saying that Assange is “an Australian L. Ron Hubbard” who demands “blinkered, cultish devotion” from his followers.
Yes, the woman is clearly pissed. And given that Khan—the daughter of billionaire businessman Sir Jimmy Goldsmith and ex-wife of Imran Khan—is worth many millions herself, it’s probably really, really not about the money.
Khan was said by friends to have been angered when Assange flouted his bail conditions and walked into the Ecuadoran Embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault.
His WikiLeaks website had, of course, published a huge quantity of U.S. diplomatic and military cables, and his lawyers said that if he went to Sweden, he risked extradition to the U.S. on espionage charges, for which the penalty could be death. (A U.S. soldier, Bradley Manning, has been in custody since 2010 for leaking information, including the diplomatic cables, to Assange. His trial is due to start this year. Prosecutors have said they will not seek the death sentence for treason.)
Assange’s claims always seemed rather fanciful, especially considering the country that was attempting to bring him to court—who could really suspect the upright Swedes of being involved in dodgy dealings or being in America’s pocket?
The British High Court said the extradition should go ahead, but Assange had other ideas. Out on bail, he walked into the Ecuadoran Embassy and claimed asylum, which has now been granted (the only problem being his inability to actually get to Ecuador, a country noted for oppressing journalists, without passing through the U.K.).
During Assange’s asylum quest, Khan tweeted, “I personally would like to see Assange confront the rape allegations in Sweden and the two women at the centre have a right to a response.” Although it was clear she disagreed with Assange’s course of action, the real depth of her sense of betrayal is only now clear to see.
Assange walked into the embassy in June and has remained there ever since, living a curious existence, sleeping and working in one small room, taking vitamin D tablets, and working out on a treadmill. The British government, although quietly outraged by Ecuador’s actions in offering shelter to Assange, have decided not to make a diplomatic row out of the affair, content to play a waiting game instead. A policeman is on duty outside the embassy 24 hours a day in case he makes a break for the border. Assange has previously said he has a problem with a lung, and the hunch in government circles is that it may be a medical emergency that finally flushes Assange out into the open.
In her lengthy piece for the New Statesman, of which she is an associate editor, Khan argues, “WikiLeaks—whose mission statement was to produce a more just society based upon truth—has been guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as those it sought to expose, while its supporters are expected to follow, unquestioningly, in blinkered, cultish devotion.”
The piece also details Khan’s involvement in a film about WikiLeaks, We Steal Secrets, directed by Alex Gibney, whose other credits include Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side, for which he won an Oscar.
When Assange bridled at the title, Khan writes: “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.”
Khan says that she still believes there are “troubling aspects” to the Swedish sexual-assault case and that “questions may need to be asked” about the Swedish police investigation. She says: “I don’t regret putting up bail money for Assange.” But she adds, “I did it so that he would be released while awaiting trial, not so that he could avoid answering to the allegations.”
She writes approvingly of many of WikiLeaks’ scoops, saying, “WikiLeaks exposed corruption, war crimes, torture and cover-ups,” but concludes with the zinging line: “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.”
Khan is the latest supporter to become fed up with Assange’s antics. Other notable falling-outs include The Guardian; The New York Times; and the publisher Jamie Byng of Canongate Books, who paid Assange a reported £500,000 advance for a ghostwritten autobiography for which Assange withdrew his cooperation days before publication.
Other supporters of Assange who helped post his bail and have now lost their money include film director Ken Loach and publisher Felix Dennis.