About 50 people rallied outside the British Consulate at 885 Second Avenue in Manhattan on Mon., Feb. 24, the day on which began the trial in London of WikiLeak’s founder and editor Julian Assange.
A British court will decide in the next few months whether to comply with an extradition request from the U.S. government, which has indicted Assange on espionage charges for publishing revelations about its war crimes.
In a particularly demagogic turn, the U.S. government has also charged that Assange’s revelations of classified information put at risk the lives of U.S. human rights workers.
The demonstration was one of over 25 worldwide demanding freedom for Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, a court-martialed and currently jailed U.S. Army soldier and whistleblower who leaked classified documents and videos to WikiLeaks.
Among the speakers at the event were civil rights lawyer Margaret Kunstler, who co-edited the book “In Defense of Julian Assange;” WikiLeaks legal team member Deborah Hrbek; journalist Ben Norton of The Grayzone; John Tarleton, editor in chief of The Indypendent; journalist Kim Ives of Haiti Liberté; writer and actor John F. O’Donnell; lawyer Michael Smith of the WBAI-FM weekly program “Law & Disorder;” and Marty Goodman of Socialist Action.
The rally was organized by NYC Free Assange and chaired by Chuck Zlatkin, the political director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union (APWU).
“Delivering real journalism is a risky undertaking with uncertain rewards,” said Margie Kuntsler of the Courage Foundation in opening remarks welcoming the demonstrators. “Truth has become a revolutionary thing. Assange has been set upon long-distance for exposing war crimes, torture, and lies. This country [the U.S.] accepts no national boundaries when it comes to enforcing domestic criminal law. Yet it is the same country that demands impunity as it rejects the international law that allows for UN investigation of human rights violations.”
In November, UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer found that Assange appeared to be suffering from “prolonged exposure to psychological torture” and charged that “the UK has not undertaken any measures of investigation, prevention, and redress required under international law.” Melzer decried that Assange “continues to be detained under oppressive conditions of isolation and surveillance, not justified by his detention status.”
“This is one of the most important cases of our lifetimes,” explained Assange’s lawyer, Deborah Hrbek. “As we speak, the opening arguments are underway in Julian’s extradition case in London. The extradition hearing itself will happen in May. The next several weeks are vital. Voices from the American public in opposition to extradition need to be heard loud and clear across the Atlantic.”
Hrbek outlined how Washington’s 18-count indictment against Assange “could land him with a prison sentence of 175 years. 17 of the 18 counts are under the Espionage Act, which has no public interest defense. If successful, this case will criminalize routine investigative journalism activities on the part of both journalists and publishers.”
Hrbek said that the “Espionage Act dates back to 1917 – it was enacted during the First World War – to deal with spies and saboteurs. Reporting on and publishing acts of the government – even embarrassing acts, or war crimes – is not spying. It’s not treason. It’s investigative journalism. Never before has the Espionage Act been used to prosecute a journalist or publisher in connection with their work. This is a grave misuse of this statute and it sets a dangerous precedent for any journalist or publication anywhere in the world who dares to report on or publish information that the U.S. government decides is harmful to its interests.”
The Indypendent’s John Tarleton noted that what Assange “has been doing for the last 15 years is some of the most important journalism in publishing in the world.”
“Thank you, WikiLeaks,” said Kim Ives, who explained how WikiLeaks partnered with Haiti Liberté in 2011 by providing the newspaper with some 2,000 secret State Department cables which became the basis for a series of articles laying bare covert U.S. imperial designs and maneuvering in Haiti. “As Julian has said, courage is contagious… The courage that Julian has shown us all, to stand up and speak truth to power, that is an example we have to defend tooth-and-nail. If we don’t, we are lost.”
“This is an international day of action,” said The Grayzone’s Ben Norton in his remarks, “because right now Julian Assange is enduring a kangaroo court, an unjust trial; they’ve thrown him in prison for the crime of telling the truth… WikiLeaks has given a gift not just to us here in the U.S. but to people around the world.”
“It’s ridiculous and unfair the idea of Assange being extradited here, where he can never get a fair trial,” explained John F. O’Donnell, who is well-known from RT’s political humor show “Redacted Tonight.” “He does not deserve to be extradited. He does not deserve to be fighting for his life. He deserves a medal.”
“Lies and suppression of truth are endless under the capitalist system, which pretends to be based on democracy,” said Marty Goodman of Socialist Action in his talk, “but there is no democracy as we see in the case of Assange and Chelsea Manning.”
During the rally from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m, there were remarks by several other activists working in NYC Free Assange, an ad hoc coalition which came together to promote consciousness and support around Julian’s case. They hold a vigil in the main hall of Grand Central Station every Thursday from 4:30-5:30 p.m. All freedom-loving people are encouraged to attend.
For more information, contact the group at NYCFreeAssange@gmail.com or visit their Facebook page: NYCFreeAssange.