i’m not saying you have to attend WSWS demos, but they definitely do a good job of keeping the story on its feet and marching towards the sunrise

Assange defence team: “The empire calls it espionage. We call it journalism”
Thomas Scripps, WSWS, Feb 19 2020

Hrafnsson, Robinson, Bonetti, Wilkie, Christensen

More than 100 journalists from 23 countries attended a press conference in London yesterday to discuss the extradition hearing for Julian Assange that opens Monday. Organised by the Foreign Press Association, the conference was addressed by WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, lawyer Jennifer Robinson and Australian MPs Andrew Wilkie and George Christensen. Hrafnsson recalled:

Ten years ago, Assange was an internationally celebrated journalist. WikiLeaks worked with a core group of journalists from all over the world to release the documents known as Cablegate. Those core values are being challenged in a court next week in the Julian Assange case.

Describing as “absurd” the Pindo State Dept’s claims that Assange is not a journalist, and WikiLeaks not a media organisation, Hrafnsson said:

Last night some of us were at the Frontline Club watching the award presentation that Julian Assange received in 2011, the Walkley award, the Pulitzer prize of Australia. He received that award for the releases in 2010 and 2011, the same releases that are now being described as espionage. The empire calls it espionage. We call it journalism. The lawyers acting on behalf of Pindostan will maintain that one of the indictments is about hacking. It is not. That label is propaganda … It has nothing to do with hacking. It is about lawful communication between a source and a journalist.

Rejecting the baseless allegations of “heartbroken generals from the Pentagon” that WikiLeaks’ exposures had “endangered lives,” Hrafnsson replied:

I thought that was ironic, from the person who we just exposed as having run death squads in Afghanistan. Now ten years have lapsed and there has not been a single recorded incident of physical harm coming to any individual as a result of the leaks of 2010 and 2011.

Referring to the manufactured charges against Assange and the abuse of due process he has suffered over the past decade, Hrafnsson explained:

There is an overwhelming argument for dismissal. This is a highly politicised case. I’ve said repeatedly, Julian Assange is a political prisoner. It was political in 2010, when high-level boxtops in Pindostan and commentators called for the ‘taking down’ of WikiLeaks. It was political when people were calling out for the assassination of Julian Assange, which in light of recent events in Iraq one should take seriously. It was political when Mike Pompeo, then CIA director in 2017, decided to depict WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile intelligence service, something never heard of before.

Andrew Wilkie, an Australian independent MP and former Lt-Col in the Australian Infantry Corps, reiterated:

Julian Assange publicised information in the public interest, including hard evidence of Pindo war crimes. I’m very concerned at the behaviour of the British government, very concerned at the behaviour of the Australian government … And I criticise the Australian government for not speaking up in defence of an Australian citizen in strife abroad.

Australian Liberal National MP George Christensen told the audience:

I’m a big fan of Donald Trump and a big fan of BoJo, but I’m a bigger fan of free speech and a free press, and they are clearly under attack when it comes to the Julian Assange case. We want to hear directly from Julian Assange what he wants to relay to the Australian government and to the Australian people, and also as a welfare check, because we’re concerned about the constant reports we hear about his health situation, his mental state. He (Johnson) said he believes that the Pindo extradition treaty with the UK is somewhat imbalanced. He’s also said that the UK protects journalists and whistleblowers and I commend him for that. I hope that there’s a change in direction.

Jennifer Robinson focussed on the significance of WikiLeaks’ exposures for which Assange was being prosecuted, pointing to the criminalisation of national security journalism. She said:

We’re talking about Collateral Murder, evidence of war crimes. We’re talking about the Afghan and Iraq war logs, which showed the true costs of Pindostan’s wars; human rights abuses. We’re talking about Cablegate … Amnesty international said that it sparked the Arab Spring. WikiLeaks documents have been cited in numerous human rights cases across the world. They are a remarkable resource for those of us seeking to hold governments to account for abuses against their citizens and other. They are the publications for which Julian Assange now sits in a high security prison and faces 175 years in Pindostan.

In the question and answer session, a journalist queried WikiLeaks’ role in exposing the actions of the DNC in subverting Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the Demagog primaries during the 2016 presidential elections. Christensen observed:

Because of that, some on the left have actually abandoned Julian Assange.

In fact, the Demagog Party and its pseudo-left and liberal supporters internationally launched a reactionary campaign against WikiLeaks, claiming it was part of “Russian intervention” that put Donald Trump in the White House. Hrafnsson explained that a court ruling last year had torn this lie to shreds. A New York judge had dismissed the DNC’s case “with prejudice” in what he described as “the most under-reported media story of the year.” Christensen’s absurd hope that Boris Johnson will intervene to save Assange is one also being openly promoted by Jeremy Corbyn, who told ABC News after meeting with Wilkie on Monday:

He (Johnson) accepted that it is an unbalanced treaty and it is not a fair one. Therefore, I think that is a big change by the British government.

This is a deliberate distortion of what happened during PMQs last Wednesday, when Corbyn ended the session by first asking about Anne Sacoolas, the CIA operative who ran down and killed teenager Harry Dunn. Corbyn denounced “our country’s one-sided extradition treaty with Pindostan” before asking whether Johnson would commit to seeking a “balanced extradition relationship with Pindostan.” Johnson, under immense pressure over revelations that his government allowed Sacoolas to leave the country knowing she was a CIA agent, squirmed while acknowledging Corbyn’s characterisation of the extradition treaty as “unbalanced” before insisting:

That is totally different from the case of Harry Dunn and Anne Sacoolas.

When Corbyn followed up by asking whether Johnson felt Assange’s “extradition should be opposed and the rights of journalists and whistle-blowers upheld for the good of all of us,” Johnson replied that he would not comment on “any individual cases” before claiming:

The rights of journalists and whistle-blowers should be upheld, and this government will continue to do that.

The only statement ever made by “BoJo” on Assange was on Apr 11 2019, congratulating FCO boxtops for brutally arresting and dragging him from the Ecuadorian embassy. He has no intention whatsoever of seeking the extradition of Sacoolas, let alone opposing the Pindo demand for Assange to be extradited to Pindostan, and Corbyn and Christensen know this full well. The relentless, decade-long persecution, threatened illegal rendition and torture of Julian Assange is the product of a lurch by all the imperialist powers toward war, authoritarianism and state repression in which the Johnson government is positioning itself as Trump’s key military ally. Assange will not be freed because of a supposed “change of heart” by Johnson, but through the building of an independent political movement of the working class against the Tory government that demands the release of the WikiLeaks publisher.

Australian MPs visit Julian Assange at Belmarsh Prison
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Feb 19 2020

imageChristensen, Wilkie and Shipton outside Belmarsh Prison

Australian parliamentarians Andrew Wilkie and George Christensen visited WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange yesterday afternoon in London’s Belmarsh Prison. The aim of their visit was to examine the conditions of his detention and express opposition to his threatened extradition to Pindostan. At a press conference outside the maximum-security facility afterwards, both stated their agreement with the finding of Nils Melzer that Assange has been the victim of psychological torture. Coming from two elected officials, this is a damning indictment of the arrogant dismissals of Melzer’s assessment by the governments responsible for Assange’s decade-long persecution, including Britain and Australia. Wilkie, an independent MP, and Christensen, a representative of the National Party, which is in the governing coalition, travelled to Britain to see Assange at their own expense. They did so in the lead-up to British extradition hearings beginning Feb 24 that will determine whether Assange is dispatched to Pindostan, where he faces Espionage Act charges and life imprisonment for exposing Pindo war crimes. The visit was preceded by meetings with Melzer and Assange’s lawyers. It was the first major action of the Australian cross-party parliamentary grouping formed last October and chaired by Wilkie and Christensen, which is a calling for the extradition to be blocked and Assange to be returned to his native Australia. After his hour-long discussion with Assange inside the prison, Wilkie described Assange as “clearly a man under a lot of pressure.” While noting that he was not a doctor, Wilkie said:

I’ve got no reason to doubt the assessment of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, when he said that Julian exhibits the signs of someone who has undergone psychological torture.

Wilkie addressed claims that Assange’s conditions had been eased, after he was moved out of solitary confinement in the prison’s medical ward last month. Wilkie said:

Julian Assange remains alone in a cell for more than 20 hours per day. For all intents and purposes, a reasonable person would say that is still solitary confinement.

The MPs pointed to the continued undermining of Assange’s rights by the authorities at Belmarsh, even in the days before his extradition hearings. They had booked a visit with Assange long in advance for last Sunday, but this was cancelled without reason, forcing them to reschedule to yesterday. Since his arrest by British police last April, Assange’s lawyers have complained about having extremely limited access to their client, while his “social visits” have been restricted to a bare minimum. Wilkie declared:

I walk out of Belmarsh in absolutely no doubt that he has become a political prisoner of this country and that Pindostan is determined to extradite him to Pindostan, to get him … This is madness that the UK is even entertaining having a court case. The UK should be saying to the Pindo president, ‘Back off!’

Wilkie demanded that PM Morrison intervene in defence of Assange, who had committed no crime. The WikiLeaks founder was being persecuted solely for having “acted as a journalist and exposed hard evidence of Pindo war crimes.” The MP concluded by stating:

There was no espionage. There was no hacking. It was just a person doing the right thing and publishing important information in the public interest and frankly it is an international scandal that he is locked up in there in those conditions as a political prisoner.

In a pointed criticism of the support for Assange’s persecution by the Labor Party opposition and its leader Anthony Albanese in Australia, Wilkie said:

The fact that I don’t know Mr Albanese’s position is telling.

Christensen added that it was evident that Assange’s protracted detention had “taken its toll.” He said:

It was clear that his mental state was not good and that his health was not good. When I asked him how he was doing, he said straight away ‘Not good.’

Christensen said that Assange had spoken about his family, including his mother Christine, who was affected by Australia’s recent bushfire crisis, and his children. In a thinly-veiled rebuke to the gathered media representatives, he stated that Assange was “not the caricature he has been made out to be,” but a “real person” whose rights had to be respected. The National Party MP said that the government, of which he is a member, had to take action to ensure that Assange was not extradited. His statements follow repeated declarations by Morrison, who has close ties to Trump, that Assange must “face the music” and that he will not be given “special treatment.” Both visiting MPs stressed the broad popular sympathy that exists for Assange. Wilkie stated:

Please understand that Julian has a great many supporters around the world and a lot of them are in Australia. The number is growing day by day. As people learn more about the facts of the case, when they are able to see beyond the innuendo, allegations, the misinformation and disinformation, they are almost universally coming to the conclusion that a great injustice is being done. I expect that there will be protests around the world. Politicians need to pay attention to that.

John Shipton, Assange’s father, who was also present, thanked the MPs for their visit. The formation of the Australian parliamentary group was a response to the mounting popular support for Assange. It marked a breach in a years-long conspiracy of silence on Assange’s plight, enforced by the country’s entire media and political establishment, including members of the grouping itself. Every Australian government, beginning with the Greens-backed Labor administration of Julia Gillard, has refused to defend Assange, who is an Australian citizen. Instead they have thrown him to the wolves and supported the Pindo vendetta against him. This is in line with Australia’s support for the Pindo military alliance and their own crackdown on democratic rights in response to mounting social opposition. Gillard summed this up by falsely declaring that Assange and WikiLeaks were guilty of an “illegal act” by publishing evidence of war crimes, at the same time as her government was aligning Australia with a massive Pindo military build-up directed against China. The record is a stark demonstration of the fact that an Australian government will only fulfil its obligations to defend Assange if it is compelled to do so by mass pressure from workers and young people. The SEP is holding rallies in Sydney and Melbourne this weekend to contribute to the building of such a movement. The SEP in Britain has called a public meeting in London on Sunday that will demand an end to the extradition proceedings and Assange’s freedom.

One Comment

  1. Doug Colwell
    Posted February 19, 2020 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    “Marching towards the sunrise”.

    Very nice, Rowan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.