Militant Journalism

Activists outside Justice Department demand Julian Assange be freed on second anniversary of his arrest

Activists rallied outside the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters in Wash., D.C., on April 11 to demand WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange be released and the charges against him be dropped.

April 11 marks two years since the Ecuadorian administration of President Lenín Moreno, sore from having its dirty laundry aired by journalists totally unconnected to Assange or WikiLeaks, caved in to years of pressure by the United States. It allowed British police to storm the Ecuadorian embassy in London and arrest the Australian journalist, who had been hiding there for years under Quito’s protection.

Assange has been hit with 18 felony charges by the U.S. DOJ, 17 of which are under the 1917 Espionage Act. This is a law used to silence generations of anti-war activists, whistleblowers who spoke out against wrongs they had witnessed, and the journalists who reported on those dirty deeds. These charges could put 49-year-old Assange in prison for up to 175 years.

The charges against Assange stem from WikiLeaks’ publication of the “Collateral Murder” video in 2010. It was leaked by then-U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The video dates to 2007 and shows a U.S. Army Apache attack helicopter gunning down dozens of Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists. The video reveals the Pentagon lied to Reuters and to the public about the cause of their deaths.

The ANSWER Coalition joined solidarity activist network Action for Assange outside the DOJ to demand the charges be dropped and to denounce the attacks on freedom of speech and the press. The protest was just one of nearly three dozen actions spread out across five continents. These actions have grown from just a handful of people two years ago who set out with an internet livestream to spread factual information about Assange’s case.

“We know that Julian Assange will be absolved by history,” Esther Iverem, a journalist who hosts the radio show “On The Ground” and a member of the ANSWER Coalition, told the crowd. “But we can’t really wait for history, here. The way these maniacs, warmongers and nuclear annihilists are handling this world, we don’t know what kind of history will be written anyway. Will history be written? So what we want is, we want justice for Julian now.”

In January, UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled against extraditing Assange to the United States on medical grounds: the previous 20 months in the UK’s harsh Belmarsh Prison have taken a severe toll on Assange physically and mentally, and many doctors and experts have spoken out against his treatment. Nils Melzer, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, wrote in an October 2019 letter to the British government asserting Assange’s treatment in Belmarsh “clearly amounts to psychological torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and called for his release.

However, just days after U.S. President Joe Biden took office, the DOJ appealed the ruling. Biden was vice president when WikiLeaks published “Collateral Murder” and other documents given to them by Manning, who was herself prosecuted and sentenced to 35 years in prison by Barack Obama’s DOJ.

Biden denounced Assange at the time as a “high-tech terrorist” and admitted the DOJ was “looking into” how to press charges. The Obama administration ultimately declined to do so, being unable to meaningfully distinguish between WikiLeaks’ practices and those of The New York Times. The Trump administration was clearly unbothered by that impasse and as is Biden.

“This is a political trial,” Andrew Smith, one of the founders of Action for Assange, told Liberation News. “The treaty that allows for extradition between the U.S. and the U.K. explicitly bars political prosecutions from being transferred. The queen of England had to weigh in on this and say that she doesn’t weigh in on political things. So that’s one of many facets of this that the defense can appeal.”

“Judge Vanessa Baraitser agreed with every single thing that the U.S. said: that the CIA is allowed to spy on journalists in the national interest, you cannot publish classified information, and it’s honestly even darker because they even talk about the scope of the platform and the ability to share that information as part of the reason why Julian is being prosecuted. The U.S. said that Julian’s position in the world as a publisher was too large and sharing this could cause damage to the U.S. empire,” Smith said.

Assange once said that “if wars can be started by lies, they can be stopped by truth.” He is persecuted because he published the truth about the U.S. capitalist ruling class, discrediting it to the people of the world and making it harder to excuse its murderous wars and manipulative bullying of other nations. This is the greatest duty of a journalist and his prosecution is a danger to the people’s right to know the truth about what the government claims to commit in our name.

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