Last week I argued that some media outlets were publishing stories about the Julian Assange sexual misconduct investigation that seemed to misrepresent both the relevant law and the allegations against him. Despite what you might have read on the web, for instance, consensual sex without a condom isn’t illegal in Sweden.

I didn’t take a position on Assange’s guilt or innocence in that piece, because I don’t have one. I was just trying to make sure that the accusations against him were reported accurately. (For the record, Assange is accused of holding a woman down against her will during a sexual encounter, and of failing to comply with her request that he use a condom during sex. He is accused of having sex with another woman without her consent while she slept — again without using a condom.)

When a public figure is accused of misconduct, his supporters are often tempted to minimize the charges against him — to say that the accusations are not merely false, but also unserious. But in this case the accusations are serious. Assange may be guilty or he may be innocent, but he is accused of serious crimes.

Some who read my previous piece on this issue have accused me of taking Assange’s guilt as a given, but the fact is that the question of his guilt or innocence just wasn’t relevant to my post, because what I was trying to say was this: Whether he’s guilty or innocent, his accusers deserve a fair and honest hearing. They deserve justice. Whatever justice winds up meaning, they deserve justice.

And by the same token, guilty or innocent, Assange deserves the same. He deserves a fair and honest hearing. He deserves justice.

Whether Assange is guilty or innocent, justice will not be served if he is charged without sufficient evidence, if he is denied a fair trial, or if, having been convicted at trial, he is denied a fair sentencing process. Whether he is guilty or innocent, justice will not be served if his prosecution is manipulated to serve the interests of his political enemies.

Every student of history knows that innocence is no protection against persecution. But every student of history knows as well that the guilty have also often been persecuted. The guilty may be railroaded. The guilty may be framed. The guilty may be punished unfairly and excessively.

There is already reason to be concerned about whether justice will be served in this case, and whether we believe Assange to be guilty or innocent, that concern is reason for vigilance.

Update | See also Afua Hirsch, Lindsay Beyerstein, and Amanda Marcotte.