“There is already a mounting wave of opposition to the extradition of Assange. From Amnesty International to the Council of Europe practically every international body concerned with journalistic freedom has supported Assange.”
By John Rees
Julian Assange’s lawyers and others who were spied on by the CIA when they visited the journalist in the Ecuadorean embassy in London are taking the US spy agency to court.
This week a group which includes leading lawyers opened a court case in New York against former CIA head Mike Pompeo for breach of attorney client privilege and invasion of privacy.
The outcome could seriously damage the US government’s case against Assange in the US courts, if he is successfully extradited by his accusers.
But that is still far from certain.
The persecution of Julian Assange by the Tory government is part of a much wider attack on our freedoms. The Tory attempt to silence critical journalistic voices, which is what the assault on Julian Assange is intended to do, goes hand in hand with the attempts to stifle effective political protests, to further tighten what are already the most restrictive anti-trade union laws in Europe, to alter the voter registration process to effectively exclude poor and marginalised voters, and to beef-up and already draconian Official Secrets Act.
But even a hardline anti-civil liberties Tory government can be forced to abandon policies if they are shown to be unpopular enough. Indeed, the government has a number of spectacular policy reverses strewn in his wake: the windfall tax on energy corporations, mandatory Covid jabs for NHS staff, action over water companies dumping raw sewage, emergency visas for truck drivers, free school meals concessions, the second Covid lockdown, prosecuting troops for genocide, mandatory face masks on public transport…all these have seen screeching u-turns by the government.
With talk of an autumn general election and a no current prime minster the Tory party is particularly vulnerable to effective political protest.
There is already a mounting wave of opposition to the extradition of Assange. From Amnesty International to the Council of Europe practically every international body concerned with journalistic freedom has supported Assange. So have journalists’ unions, including the NUJ and its Australian sister union, and the International Federation of Journalists.
Even the mainstream press has at last realised that there is a fundamental threat to freedom of expression at stake in the Assange case. Most of the print press is now sympathetic, including the Mail and the Telegraph, although not the Sun. The broadcast media, including the BBC, is at least providing more coverage, and more balanced coverage, than it has in the past.
Some of this will have an effect on the government, although some of it, like criticism from NGOs, will be readily dismissed by the Tory hierarchy.
The real virtue of such publicity is that it gives ordinary citizens the feeling that they will not be alone if they support Assange, that it is the right and necessary thing to do. This in turn can spark mass campaigning.
Every MP will tell you that the thing which most grabs their attention is when they get more than 100 emails in their inbox on a single issue. Then they know that beyond that there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of constituents that feel strongly on that issue. And those are the kind of numbers that can decide an election.
But that kind of active response cannot be generated by publicity alone. What is also needed is an active campaigning base. Rallies and meetings, marches and protests, create an activist core that can drive a wider periphery of participation.
The labour movement, the social movements, and the left already possess such networks of course. These too need to be won to a more active and committed stance on the Assange issue.
These are pressing tasks. There still exists the chance to appeal against Priti Patel’s decision and the earlier Magistrates Court ruling against Assange in the English courts. But that process will probably take months, not years. The window of opportunity is closing. Urgency is necessary.
To make sure MPs get the free Assange message loud and clear campaigners are planning to surround Parliament with a human chain on Saturday 8 October. Thousands have already signed up to take part in the protest which has the support of the National Union of Journalists. Join them.
- John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and an organiser for the People’s Assembly. You can follow him on twitter here.
- The “Free Assange” human chain surrounding parliament will take place on Saturday, October 8th. Sign up and find out more here.