Thursday the United Nations concluded that Julian Assange is being detained illegally. This must come as a relief for Assange, who had tweeted a promise to turn himself over to the British police if the UN didn't rule in his favor.
So what now? Well, it will probably mean nothing. If Assange requests his passport back, as he promised he would, the UK government will likely ignore the request and he'll remain holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Or maybe he'll try to leave, in which case all bets are off.
Someone who is watching this whole saga with particular curiosity is Jerry Koliha, one of Assange's former teachers. Back in 2003, Assange enrolled himself into mathematics at Melbourne University. It was there that he did a semester in linear analysis under the tuition of Koliha.
We gave Koliha a call to see if he had a message for his former student.
VICE: Tell me about the first time you met Julian Assange.
Koliha: Well it was a third year mathematics subject. It's been six years since I retired, so that would've been 2006. He looked very distinctive sitting in the first row, because he was a mature age student. He asked very advanced questions. From the essays he handed in it was clear to me that—had he put his mind to it—that he could have been a very good mathematician. But he was quite erratic in attendance. You could see very clearly that he wouldn't be bound by the timetables, he'd just follow his own mind.
Did he come across as arrogant?
No, it wasn't arrogance. He was clever, he was asking very intelligent questions. Obviously, he was aware of his own intelligence, which may have come across badly to others. But I wouldn't say he was arrogant.
What kind of marks was he getting?
Very good grades, but I can't even tell you if he completed the subject. I had the feeling that he was a bit preoccupied with other things that interested him at the time.
Have you followed the WikiLeaks story?
I did follow what happened and my personal opinion is that our society needs to be more open. What he did, I appreciate. I endorse openness. Unfortunately the US has a lot to own up to, and to own up to democracy in general.
Do you think Julian has contributed to the world?
Julian's been accused of sexual assault in Sweden. What's your take on that?
I have no idea what transpired. How could I have an opinion on something that transpired in Sweden?
Well, I'm asking because you knew him personally.
If you're a lecturer in a class of 20-plus people, he's just one student sitting there. I didn't develop any closer relationship with him. With other students I did, but as I said, he was very preoccupied with other interests.
Do you wish you had gotten to know him better?
That would've been difficult. That comes from the student, not the lecturer.
At dinner parties do you ever bring out this story—that you taught Julian Assange?
Yes, I have to admit that I mention the name now and then [laughs]. I wouldn't be human if I didn't. People usually ask what he's like, but I have to repeat what I just said to you. I really didn't know him that well. He was very intelligent, he has a very good mind, but that's all.
If you could be flown to the Ecuadorian Embassy right now, what would you say to Julian?
I'd say, "I'm sorry that you were forced to take this action and sit for three years in isolation. I would say, "I appreciate what you did with WikiLeaks."
What do you think you've learned from this experience, personally?
Well I think society—not just Australia, not just America, but all of society—should be far more open. It would solve a lot of problems. Openness is the key that could improve our society, and WikiLeaks has been a tremendous contribution to that. I sincerely hope everything will be OK for him.
How do you hope this will end?
I sincerely hope the US will amend its view on it, and the case that is pending will be abandoned, as it should be in the case of Snowden.
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