Australian journalist Julian Assange continues to be detained within London’s COVID-infested Belmarsh prison in conditions that amount to prolonged solitary confinement under the agreement of the Biden administration and the Johnson government, with the complicity of PM Scott Morrison.
The ongoing and officially considered psychological torture of the Australian citizen is being carried out by some of this country’s oldest and closest allies because he published some rather inconvenient news in terms of US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In an unprecedented move in April 2019, Washington reached across international borders to arrest the Wikileaks founder over supposed crimes committed on foreign soils, and despite the UK ruling in January against extradition to the States, Assange continues to be remanded pending appeal.
So, that’s why the Home Run for Julian road trip has been coasting through regional Victoria and NSW on its way to the capital territory. Led by Julian’s father John Shipton, the speaking tour descended upon Sydney’s Martin Place on 12 March to spread word of release and return.
The truths of power
As the Home Run for Julian tour van pulled into Sydney’s major CBD pedestrian mall on Friday afternoon, it was 3CR journalist and long-term peace activist Jacob Grech sitting behind the driver’s wheel, with Shipton as passenger.
“When we bring Julian home – and it is a when, it is not an if – we want to bring him home to a country he can be proud of,” Grech stressed to the crowd of supporters who’d soon gathered. “A country where he knows his work has not been in vain.”
So, to ensure that the work Assange is paying such a high price for continues to serve its purpose, Grech advised that people should now be utilising the Wikileaks platform to search for detailed uncomfortable truths about world governments, global conflicts and transnational corporations.
Grech also noted the overwhelming support for the Townsville-born son that he, Shipton and the Peace Bus’ Graeme Dunstan and Melbourne for WikiLeaks’ Raine Sinclair have come across in regional centres, such as Castlemaine, Bendigo, Albury, Goulburn, Bathurst and Katoomba.
“This is not just about freeing Julian,” Grech maintained. “We want to free Julian’s legacy.”
Remanded in torture
“At his extradition hearing last year, it was very upsetting to hear details of his dire state of health,” said Dr Lissa Johnson from Doctors for Assange. She added that her organisation had written to the Australian government in 2019, itemising a list of physical and psychological injuries it could expect.
“We had no inside knowledge of Julian’s physical and psychological status,” she explained. “It was just obvious – and therefore predictable and preventable – that those harms would occur particularly against the backdrop of his physical and mental neglect and fragile health.”
UK District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser determined on 4 January that the suicide risk that Assange would pose if he was sent to the US is too great for extradition. And the UK government is now incarcerating the Australian citizen until an appeal of this decision can take place.
“So, after the judge ruled against extradition based on Julian’s fragile state of health and the risk to his life – all a direct result of the years of persecution and abuse,” Johnson underscored, “she sent him back to prison for more.”
Bring him home
The Biden administration now wants to extradite Assange so he can face 17 espionage charges and one count of computer hacking, which carry an accumulated maximum penalty of 175 years prison time. And the US wants to incarcerate him under an extreme isolation and surveillance regime.
Renowned Australian journalist John Pilger could not make Friday’s event, but he sent a message, in which he addressed PM Scott Morrison, suggesting that if his government could arrange the release of academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert from Iranian detention, then it could get Assange out of the UK.
“Is your Australia nothing but a frightened country? Is it a country fit for cowards who never speak up? Who never do the right thing? Who go along with what the bullies tell them?” Pilger asked the Australian prime minister via written speech. “Is that it, Scott Morrison?”
“If you say nothing – do nothing – if you just carry on managing scandals, handing out rewards and kissing the backside of the world’s bullies, then you are not the leader of a free country,” the ardent Assange supporter concluded. “Break the silence, Scott Morrison. Bring Julian home 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.