“When I first visited Julian in Belmarsh – not long after he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy – I was shocked by his appearance,” John Pilger told the crowd at the rally in Sydney’s CBD on Monday. “His first words were, ‘I think, I’m losing my mind.’”
“He wasn’t losing his mind,” the renowned Australian journalist and documentary maker went on. “And it wasn’t long before the bright, inquisitive, funny Julian Assange reemerged. His resilience, I can tell you, is quite astonishing.”
“But, how long can this resilience be sustained?”
Hosted by People for Assange, the Don’t Extradite Assange rally met at the Martin Place Amphitheatre on 24 February. And despite it being midday on a Monday, hundreds marched down Pitt Street to the local British Consulate calling for the Australian journalist to be returned home.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been incarcerated in London’s Belmarsh prison since April. And for the most part he’d been in solitary. Monday marked the first day of his extradition trial, which could see him sent to the US to face espionage charges adding up to 175 years behind bars.
A transnational vendetta
“If Julian is extradited to the US, a darkness awaits him,” Pilger made clear. “He’ll be subjected to a prison regime called special administrative measures… He will be placed in a cage in the bowels of a supermax prison, a hellhole. He will be cut off from all contact with the rest of humanity.”
And as People for Assange spokesperson Michelle Wood told Sydney Criminal Lawyers last week, this is no exaggeration. The US government outlined its intention to use special administrative measures in late January, which Wood said could mean we may “never hear from Julian again”.
And Assange is facing this grim future, not for committing any crime, but for reporting on the lies and the offences perpetrated by the US government, via classified documents leaked by Chelsea Manning. Indeed, his fate dictates whether all of us have a right to know in the future.
The power of the people
“So, our responsibility today is clear, we must rescue Julian from this living death,” Pilger declared. And he went on to explain that as this is Assange’s homeland, the government has a moral responsibility to do something to help its citizen.
“I can understand why many of you would react to this cynically. ‘A government led by Scott Morrison doing the right thing?’ you say. ‘Impossible’”, the veteran journalist empathised with those gathered.
But, he then begged to differ, explaining that all governments act in accordance with whether they’re going to survive. And he insisted that a political deal to bring Julian home can still be cut with the British government straight after the extradition trial and prior to appeal.
“If Julian dies in an American hellhole, Scott Morrison is in trouble,” Mr Pilger warned. “That’s why this rally today must be a part of departure for a movement that confronts the Australian government with the dire consequences if it does not act to save Julian Assange, and act now.”
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.