In a Press Freedom Day panel discussion, progressive journalists sought to highlight the ongoing persecution of the WikiLeaks founder and the many ways in which journalists are under attack the world over
On Wednesday, May 3, progressive groups marked World Press Freedom Day by drawing attention to the continued hounding of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In a panel discussion held by the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, in collaboration with the International Peoples’ Assembly and Peoples Dispatch, senior independent journalists spoke on why Assange continues to be punished and imprisoned for his reporting.
The panel discussed the topic “Telling The Truth Is a Crime: Why Julian Assange and Other Brave Journalists under Attack” and consisted of Indian civil rights activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad and senior journalist Prabir Purkayastha.
Teesta Setalvad is renowned for her more than two-decade long struggle to secure justice for the victims of the 2002 sectarian violence in Gujarat and for founding and leading Sabrang, an independent progressive platform known for its work against the Hindu right-wing in India.
It’s funny how former Israeli PM Ehud Barak just deleted a tweet admitting that Israel has nuclear weapons at the same time The Washington Post reports that US allies have a “don’t talk about Nord Stream” policy because of the answers it would turn up. There are so many open secrets that everyone knows but isn’t allowed to acknowledge publicly.
The world’s most famous journalist was just deprived of a visit from Reporters Without Borders because the British prison he’s being kept in “received intelligence that they are journalists,” and yet all we ever hear about is how Russia and China mistreat journalists. Julian Assange is the world’s greatest and most famous journalist and he’s in prison solely for the crime of doing good journalism, but sure, let’s all spend our time shaking our fists at far away “authoritarian regimes” for imprisoning journalists.
I have known Julian Assange since I first interviewed him in London in 2010. I immediately liked his dry, dark sense of humor, often dispensed with an infectious giggle. He is a proud outsider: sharp and thoughtful. We have become friends, and I have sat in many courtrooms listening to the tribunes of the state try to silence him and his moral revolution in journalism.
My own high point was when a judge in the Royal Courts of Justice leaned across his bench and growled at me: ‘You are just a peripatetic Australian like Assange.’ My name was on a list of volunteers to stand bail for Julian, and this judge spotted me as the one who had reported his role in the notorious case of the expelled Chagos Islanders. Unintentionally, he delivered me a compliment.
I saw Julian in Belmarsh not long ago. We talked about books and the oppressive idiocy of the prison: the happy-clappy slogans on the walls, the petty punishments; they still won’t let him use the gym. He must exercise alone in a cage-like area where there is a sign that warns about keeping off the grass. But there is no grass. We laughed; for a brief moment, some things didn’t seem too bad.
“The U.S. government should end its prosecution of Julian Assange for publishing secrets,” the editors of the Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El Pais wrote in a joint letter published Monday.
The letter was signed by Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and the editors and publishers of the Guardian (Britain), Le Monde (France), Der Spiegel (Germany) and El Pais (Spain).
In a joint letter, the news organizations warned that the indictment of Julian Assange “sets a dangerous precedent” that could chill reporting about matters of national security.
“Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists,” the letter said. “If that work is criminalized, our public discourse and our democracies are made significantly weaker.”
The US government holds many political prisoners, including journalists; national security state whistleblowers; Black, Indigenous, and Latino revolutionaries; foreign diplomats; Muslims detained without trial; women who defended themselves from attacks; and environmental activists.
The United States constantly accuses its adversaries of holding political prisoners, while insisting it has none of its own. But for its entire history, the US government has used incarceration of its political opponents as a tool to crush dissent and advance the interests of economic elites.
Well-known cases are those entrapped or framed in US national security state sting operations, or imprisoned with extreme sentences for a minor offense because of their political activism, such as Black revolutionary George Jackson.
Each period of struggle by the working class and oppressed peoples against ruling-class control results in some activists locked up for their revolutionary work. “Political prisoner” has often meant those revolutionaries jailed for fighting their national oppression, as is the case with a great number of Black Panthers.
The eleven-year persecution of Julian Assangewas extended and escalated on Friday morning.The British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, approved the U.S.’s extradition request to send Julian Assange to Virginia to stand trial on eighteen felony charges under the 1917 Espionage Act and other statutes in connection with the 2010 publication by WikiLeaks of thousands of documents showing widespread corruption, deceit, and war crimes by American and British authorities along with their close dictatorial allies in the Middle East.
This decision is unsurprising — it has been obvious for years that the U.S. and UK are determined to destroy Assange as punishment for his journalism exposing their crimes — yet it nonetheless further highlights the utter sham of American and British sermons about freedom, democracy and a free press. Those performative self-glorifying spectacles are constantly deployed to justify these two countries’ interference in and attacks on other nations, and to allow their citizens to feel a sense of superiority about the nature of their governments. After all, if the U.S. and UK stand for freedom and against tyranny, who could possibly oppose their wars and interventions in the name of advancing such lofty goals and noble values?
London – I am standing at the gates of HM Prison Belmarsh, a high security penitentiary in southeast London, with Craig Murray, British Ambassador to Uzbekistan until he was fired for exposing CIA black sites and torture centers in that country. Inside the prison, Julian Assange and Stella Moris are being married. Craig and I were on the list of the six guests invited to the wedding, but prison authorities, in an example of the institutional sadism that characterizes all prisons, denied us entry. Craig, who was to have been one of two witnesses, was informed that he could not enter because he would “endanger the security of the prison.”
WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the US should be allowed, the High Court ruled today in what has been branded “a grave miscarriage of justice.”
Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting at the central London court, said he was satisfied by assurances given by the US government that if Mr Assange is convicted, he would be allowed to serve his sentence in Australia and receive appropriate medical and psychological care while awaiting trial.
Mr Assange, 50, is wanted in the US over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.