The Spark Barry White on campaigns, news, events & reviews Sat, 04 Jan 2020 18:53:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 International journalist statement in defence of Julian Assange Sat, 04 Jan 2020 18:28:02 +0000 Continue reading International journalist statement in defence of Julian Assange ]]> The following statement was published on the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) web site on 2 January 2020.

“Julian Assange, publisher of Wikileaks, is currently detained in Belmarsh high-security prison in the United Kingdom. He faces extradition to the United States and criminal prosecution under the US Espionage Act. He has been charged for publishing the Afghanistan and Iraq war diaries and US embassy cables, important documents that many journalists around the world used and helped to publicise. The “War Diaries” provided evidence that the US Government misled the public about activities in Afghanistan and Iraq and committed war crimes.

“We believe that the arbitrary detention and criminal prosecution of Julian Assange set an extremely dangerous precedent for journalists, media actors and freedom of the press,” said EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez. The European Federation of Journalists submitted today an alert to the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists and other Media Actors, in order to denounce the continued arbitrary detention and psychological torture of Julian Assange.

Many jurists, politicians, journalists and academics consider that the arrest of Julian Assange constitutes an attack on freedom of the press and international law: his arrest by police in the UK, after the Ecuadorian Government decided to stop granting him asylum in their London embassy, and his prosecution in the United States for publishing leaked documents of public interest set a dangerous precedent for journalists, whistleblowers, and other media actors that the US may wish to pursue in the future.

Julian Assange was arrested by the British police on 11 April 2019. Later that day, he was found guilty of breaching the UK Bail Act. On 1 May 2019, he was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison in the United Kingdom. On the same day, the United States government unsealed an indictment against Assange for alleged computer intrusion, related to a series of leaks provided by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. On 23 May 2019, the United States government further charged Assange with violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

In reaction to the latest charges of violating the US Espionage Act, the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Michelle Stanistreet, said: “Such a move poses a huge threat, one that could criminalise the critical work of investigative journalists and their ability to protect their sources. It is the latest unacceptable act from an administration determined to treat journalists as enemies of the people.”

The EFJ shares, together with the IFJ, the concerns expressed by the “Speak Up for Assange” campaign, launched on 6 December 2019: “This case stands at the heart of the principle of free speech. If the US government can prosecute Mr Assange for publishing classified documents, it may clear the way for governments to prosecute journalists anywhere, an alarming precedent for freedom of the press worldwide. Also, the use of espionage charges against people publishing materials provided by whistleblowers is a first and should alarm every journalist and publisher. In a democracy, journalists can reveal war crimes and cases of torture and abuse without having to go to jail. It is the very role of the press in a democracy. If governments can use espionage laws against journalists and publishers, they are deprived of their most important and traditional defense – of acting in the public interest – which does not apply under the Espionage Act.”

After examining Assange in prison on 9 May 2019, United Nations special rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Nils Melzer concluded, “in addition to physical ailments, Mr Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.”

In a letter sent on 29 October 2019 to the UK government, Melzer wrote: “I found that the UK had contributed decisively to producing the observed medical symptoms, most notably through its participation, over the course of almost a decade, in Mr Assange’s arbitrary confinement, his judicial persecution, as well as his sustained and unrestrained public mobbing, intimidation and defamation. (…) British officials have contributed to Mr Assange’s psychological torture or ill-treatment, whether through perpetration, or through attempt, complicity or other forms of participation. (…) Recurring and serious violations of Mr Assange’s due process rights by UK authorities have rendered both his criminal conviction and sentencing for bail violation and the US extradition proceedings inherently arbitrary. (…) Mr Assange’s state of health has further deteriorated and has recently entered a down-ward spiral which may well put his life in danger. (…) The detention regime currently imposed on Mr Assange appears to be unnecessary, disproportionate, and discriminatory and to perpetuate his exposure to psychological torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

In November 2019, Melzer recommended that Mr Assange’s extradition to US be barred and that he be promptly released.

The EFJ calls on journalists and people in journalism-related roles to sign the international journalist statement in defence of Julian Assange.”

Meanwhile the President of Mexico has expressed his solidarity with Julian Assange, saying he hopes the Australian WikiLeaks founder will soon be pardoned and freed.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said liberating Assange would be a “just cause.” Lopez Obrador expressed his solidarity with Assange and said he hoped the former hacker and activist is “forgiven and released.”

The Mexican president told a press conference in his country on 3 January 2020, that cables published by WikiLeaks demonstrated the workings of the global system and its “authoritarian” nature.

“I hope that this is taken into consideration and he is freed and he is no longer tortured,” he said.

“There are cables that came to light from when we were in opposition and they spoke about our struggle and I can corroborate that they are true, that is to say what is in them was accurate, they revealed illegal relationships, illegitimate acts, violations of sovereignty, contrary to democracy, against freedoms, this is what is in there.

“So I express my solidarity and my wish that he is pardoned and that it is considered, that he is liberated he could offer an apology.

“Liberating him will be a very just cause for human rights; it will be an act of humility on the part of the authority that has to decide on the liberty of this journalist.”

It was reported recently in the Mail Online that on Christmas Eve Julian Assange phoned a friend to alert the world that his life is in danger inside London’s high security Belmarsh prison. Vaughan Smith, a freelance video news journalist who gave refuge to Assange in 2010 at his home in Ellingham Hall, Norfolk, when he was legally fighting against attempts to extradite him to Sweden, tweeted that Assange called his family on 24 December. Smith wrote: “He told my wife and I how he was slowly dying in Belmarsh where, though only on remand, he is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and is often sedated.

There are concerns that Julian could die in prison, and it is shameful that calls for explanations about his detention, his solitary confinement and poor health have gone unanswered by the authorities.





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Media reform – are the parties up to the challenge? Sat, 07 Dec 2019 17:52:27 +0000 Continue reading Media reform – are the parties up to the challenge? ]]> The central role the media has played in the General Election Campaign is undeniable. So is the pro Conservative party dominance of much of the national press together with its anti-Labour party bias. Social media has again offered alternative platforms for the parties and people to get their messages across. Since the last election we have seen increasing consolidation of media ownership, the latest takeover being announced at the end of November when JPIMedia sold the i newspaper and website for a reported £49.6m to the billionaire Lord Rothermere’s  Daily Mail and General Trust, which owns the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline. Meanwhile press baron David Montgomery is in talks to buy JPIMedia which owns dozens of major local British newspapers.

So what new policies do the parties offer to counter these concerns and make our media ‘fit for purpose’?

The Conservative Party’s manifesto does not say much, generally happy with the status quo, and the support they get from the majority of the press, but what it says is significant. On free TV licences for the over 75s, it states that: “We recognise the value of free TV licences for over-75s and believe they should be funded by the BBC.” The BBC has said it will continue to provide TV licences to over 75s who claim means-tested pension credit.

On the press: “…we will repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which seeks to coerce the press” and: We will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry”. This is not new. After the last election the May government said it would repeal section 40 and scrap Leveson2, but these proposals were not implemented. The government did not have the numbers to pass the necessary legislation.

The Section 40 decision is heavily criticised by Natalie Fenton of the Media Reform Coalition who says; “Section 40…is key to persuading the press to join a recognised regulator through a system of carrots and sticks – if a news publisher joins a recognised regulator then access to low cost arbitration becomes mandatory. This removes the threat of potentially huge losses for both ordinary citizens who may be the victims of illegal journalistic behaviour and for publishers who may be threatened by a wealthy litigant who doesn’t like what they have printed.”

However, Section 40 has been criticised by a number of press freedom organisations as well as the media owners. Tim Gopsill editor of the CPBF’s Free Press writing on Leveson in its final issue (215, Summer 2018) stated that: “…we have ended up with demure and pointless Press Recognition Panel (PRP) and above all the absurd injustice of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act under which the redress that people might attain from a publication would depend on which regulator the offender happens to be affiliated to…” Index on Censorship describes Section 40 “as a direct threat to press freedom and must be scrapped…”

Labour has six main pledges including supporting public service broadcasting and local newspapers and media outlets; action to address monopolistic hold tech giants have on advertising revenues and to safeguard a healthy plurality of media ownership.

They also promised to provide free “full-fibre” broadband for every home and business. As an article in the Guardian’s Society ( ‘Labour’s broadband plan could radically change young people’s life chances’ Sandra Leaton Gray 3 December) points out: “… This manifesto commitment goes well beyond flinging an election freebie at voters largely able to pay for subscriptions themselves. … speed and access are not the only problems. When young people do access the internet, which is most likely to be through a mobile phone, they see different things: those in deprived areas are bombarded with burger and betting advertisements, while young people in more affluent areas are shown advertisements for university open days and sports equipment. … Sneaky algorithms assess how far you live from a telephone exchange or mobile phone mast, whether you are accessing the internet by phone, copper or fibre broadband, the geolocation of your IP address, and even the monetary value and age of the device you are using. …The way to change this grubby commercial practice is to standardise provision.”

The article also reminds us that:” We see parents in deprived areas paying a small fortune for subscriptions offering a few miserly kilobytes of decrepit and creaking copper broadband…” This is happening not only in rural areas, but in urban/city internet cold spots. The proposal aims to bring about high quality provision for all.

The Liberal Democrats also offer six main pledges including the introduction of a Leveson compliant regulator and holding Leveson2, while the Green Party offer four, which include the need to: “safeguard a healthy plurality of media ownership”. Both the Scottish and Welsh national parties want devolution of media policy to their parliaments.

All but the Conservative Party have made attempts to address some of the long standing policy concerns highlighted by media reformers, but need to go much further if we are to have a media that serves our 21st century democracy. Urgent reform is needed to reclaim the media in the interest of the public.

For details of manifesto media policies see:

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The Tory manifesto – an Executive ‘power grab’ – we have been warned Tue, 26 Nov 2019 17:18:29 +0000 Continue reading The Tory manifesto – an Executive ‘power grab’ – we have been warned ]]>  

If elected on 12 December, will a new Tory government unleash an attack on some of the democratic traditions we have taken for granted for many years? After all, during the last parliament there were frequent attacks on MPs’ attempts to hold the government to account over Brexit because, as representatives of the people, they wanted to have a final say on the proposed withdrawal deal and taking ‘no deal’ off the table. A case of the Commons ‘taking back control’ you might say.

The Commons elected only two years earlier, reflected the close division in the UK over leaving the EU, so it was no surprise after the election when the government having failed to seek a cross party approach to leaving, acted in the way they did. But it was not just the Commons that sought to take back control, to exercise Parliamentary sovereignty, the courts were also involved. That’s not the way the right wing press saw it over the past three years. Accusations of ‘Enemies of the People’ and ‘The House of Fools’(Daily Mail), ‘EU Dirty Rats’(Sun) and ‘Parliament surrenders to the EU’ (Daily Express) were flung at those who had the nerve to hold the government to account.

In September 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of giving MPs a say over triggering Article 50 – the legal mechanism taking the UK out of the EU. The May Government did not want parliament to have such a say. Two years later Gina Miller was back in court, this time over the decision of Prime Minister Johnson to recommend the Queen to suspend parliament. The Supreme Court found in her favour, ruling that the decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful. Meanwhile Boris Johnson went on record as describing parliament as a “nuisance” and a threat to his policy of taking Britain out of the EU by his deadline of 31 October.

Fast forward to the publication of the Conservative manifesto for the general election, page 48 which reads:

“After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.”

Fair enough? Not according to Sean O’Grady writing in the On-line Independent on 25 November. He warns: “I think they’re going to scrap the remaining practical rights and prerogatives of the House of Commons in an act of spite.” Referring to the parliamentary procedures used by the Commons to take back control over the order of business of the house and making ministers accountable for their actions he warns that a: … “Johnson administration, if elected, is going to stop all that malarkey. They will also – it is more or less explicit – interfere in the judiciary and restrict the powers of the Supreme Court to rule on issues such as the prorogation of parliament. There has been talk – not in this manifesto admittedly – of making the judges politically accountable, by being ratified via hearings by parliament, in the way they are in the United States. They have not forgiven Lady Hale and her colleagues for their ruling that the suspension of parliament in the autumn was unlawful, null and void. Neither would I be surprised if they pack the Lords with new and obedient Tory peers.”

The manifesto also says that: “The failure of Parliament to deliver Brexit – the way so many MPs have devoted themselves to thwarting the democratic decision of the British people in the 2016 referendum – has opened up a destabilising and potentially extremely damaging rift between politicians and people. If the Brexit chaos continues, with a second referendum and a second Scottish referendum too, they will lose faith even further.” And how will these changes be brought about? The manifesto continues: “In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates”.

The problems go wider than this. No doubt the commission would undertake a public consultation which it would consider, but it would be foolish to deny serious public concerns about parliament’s disconnection with many sections of the public and its failure to speak up for many of those it represents. The expenses scandal that erupted over ten years ago and shook the political system to its foundation lives long in the public memory. And as Chris McLaughin editor-at-large pointed out in the summer edition of Tribune: “Nine years ago, a two year inquiry by a specially appointed speaker’s conference on Parliamentary Representation concluded that: ‘at present few people think that MPs understand, or share, the life experiences of the people they represent’, That report lamented the ‘under representation of groups, such as women, ethnic minorities, LGBT communities, as well as the decline in people voting in elections…”

If they do form a government post 12 December, will the Tories’ new commission take seriously and review the recommendations made in 2010 by the Speaker’s Conference or will they use it to strengthen the powers of the executive over parliament and maybe even the courts and further curtail our civil liberties in the interests of ‘effective government’?

After all it was only in April that the Hansard Society’s audit of political engagement reported that the UK public was increasingly disenchanted with MPs and government and ever more willing to welcome the idea of authoritarian leaders who would ignore parliament. Almost three-quarters of those asked said the system of governance needed significant improvement, and other attitudes emerged that “challenge core tenets of our democracy”, the audit’s authors stated. The study, compiled annually by the democracy charity, found that when people were asked whether “Britain needs a strong ruler willing to break the rules”, 54% agreed and only 23% said no.

These findings taken with Johnson’s record and the proposals set out in their manifesto should sound alarm bells.


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Election 2019 – Future of the Media – what the parties say Sat, 23 Nov 2019 16:10:04 +0000 Continue reading Election 2019 – Future of the Media – what the parties say ]]> With less than three weeks to go before the general election on 12 December all the main parties, have published their election manifestos. Below are their proposals on the future of the media which I have taken from their manifestos (or ‘Contract with the People’ in the case of the Brexit Party).  Any additional points I may have missed welcome.

Brexit Party

Scrap the licence fee by phasing out the BBC licence fee, which is currently £154.50 a year for most people.

Conservative and Unionist Party

We recognise the value of free TV licences for over-75s and believe they should be funded by the BBC.

Through the Cultural Investment Fund… we will also support activities, traditions and events that bring communities together. We will support local and regional newspapers, as vital pillars of communities and local democracy, including by extending their business rates relief.

We will champion freedom of expression and tolerance, both in the UK and overseas. } To support free speech, we will repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014, which seeks to coerce the press.

We will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry.

We will continue our campaigns to promote international media freedom

Green Party

Protect the BBC, reinstate free TV licences for over-75-year-olds and tighten the rules on media ownership so no individual or company owns more than 20% of a media market. To further challenge the control of our media by big tech and unaccountable billionaires, the Green Party will ensure that a suitable independent regulator is better able to safeguard a healthy plurality of media ownership, to undertake regular plurality reviews and to trigger remedies where necessary. The recommendations of the 2012 Leveson Report will be implemented, to hold the UK press to high ethical standards.

Support, through new grants, the growth of a wider range of civic-minded local news publishers. Local newspapers in the UK are an important part of our democracy and culture yet many are closing or struggling to survive.

Introduce a Digital Bill of Rights that establishes the UK as a leading voice on standards for the rule of law and democracy in digital spaces and ensure independent regulation of social media providers. This legislation will safeguard elections by responding to the challenges of foreign interference, social media and declining confidence in democracy.

Introduce a public interest defence for breaching the Official Secrets Act, alongside better protection and support for whistle-blowers in the public and private sectors.

Labour Party

A Labour government will ensure a healthy future for all our public service broadcasters, including BBC Alba and S4C. We will protect free TV licences for over-75s.

A free and fair press is vital to protecting democracy and holding the powerful to account.

We will address misconduct and the unresolved failures of corporate governance raised by the second stage of the abandoned Leveson Inquiry. We will take steps to ensure that Ofcom is better able to safeguard a healthy plurality of media ownership and to put in place clearer rules on who is fit and proper to own or run TV and radio stations. We will take action to address the monopolistic hold the tech giants have on advertising revenues and will support vital local newspapers and media outlets.

We will consult media-sector workers and trade unions to establish an inquiry into the ‘fake news’ undermining trust in media, democracy and public debate, and on a legal right of public interest defence for journalists.

Lib Dems

A well-functioning democracy should have a high standard of public debate in which: citizens are supported, educated and empowered to distinguish between facts and lies; there is a pluralistic media environment where journalists have the resources they need to find the truth and to hold the powerful to account; civility in public discourse is protected; election procedures and rules are upheld robustly and quickly. However, these foundations of our democratic way of life are under threat. Liberal Democrats are the only party forward-looking enough to do what it takes to foster high quality public debate. We will:

Mandate the provision of televised leaders’ debates in general elections, based on rules produced by Ofcom.

Introduce a Leveson-compliant regulator to be given oversight of both privacy and quality, diversity and choice in both print and online media and proceed with Part Two of the Leveson Inquiry.

Expect the BBC both to provide impartial news and information, and to take a leading role in increasing media literacy and educating all generations in tackling the impact of fake news.

Strengthen and expand the lobbying register and ban MPs from accepting paid lobbying work.

Review the need for any election safeguarding legislation that is needed to respond to emerging challenges of the internet age, such as foreign interference in elections.

Protect the independence of the BBC and set up a BBC Licence Fee Commission, maintain Channel 4 in public ownership and protect the funding and editorial independence of Welsh language broadcasters.

Scotland and Wales

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru is seeking the devolution of broadcasting so that we can create a level playing field with every other UK nation and give Wales the power to decide its own media and broadcasting policy. In government we will promote a Welsh media that represents the people of Wales and what matters to them.

Scottish National Party

We continue to believe that responsibility for broadcasting in Scotland should transfer from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament. In the meantime we welcome the creation of a new BBC Scotland TV channel and its associated investment. We will continue to push for greater authority and funding to be moved from BBC network to BBC Scotland. We will also continue to push for a fairer share of the TV licence fee raised in Scotland being spent in Scotland.

We welcome the proposals for the relocation of Channel 4 out with London (sic), and SNP MPs will make a strong case for as many functions of the Channel 4 operation as possible to be based in Scotland.

As the UK government consults on proposals to reduce the requirement for local content on radio, SNP MPs will seek to protect local news and other content provided by local commercial radio stations, recognising the valuable contribution they make to informing and entertaining listeners.

We remain committed to a vibrant, free press and we will work with other parties, in Scotland and at Westminster, to ensure it is supported.

We will make the case for the Scottish Parliament to have the power to decide which sporting events in Scotland are included in the list of those that are free to view in Scotland. We will demand that the UK government reinstates its funding for Gaelic broadcast

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Urgent action needed to support public service broadcasting says Lords Committee Thu, 07 Nov 2019 15:59:59 +0000 Continue reading Urgent action needed to support public service broadcasting says Lords Committee ]]> Just hours before Parliament was dissolved at one minute past midnight on 6 November, the House of Lords’ Communications and Digital Committee published a report calling for urgent action to safeguard the future of public service broadcasting. The report – ‘Public service broadcasting: as vital as ever ‘ – points to the current threats and calls for urgent measures to safeguard the future of broadcasting as a vital part of UK society and democracy. It warns that public service broadcasters (PSBs) need to be better supported to ensure that they can continue to produce high-quality drama and documentaries which reflect and examine UK culture. In return, the broadcasters need to adapt to ensure that they serve and reflect all audiences.

The committee also raises concerns about the integrity of the licence fee as the guarantor of the BBC’s financial independence, describing how it has been undermined by a succession of settlements which were carried out behind closed doors. It condemns the decision to hand over responsibility to the BBC for free licences for the over-75s, saying: “The BBC should not have been offered, or accepted, responsibility for over-75s’ licences.” The committee calls for a new, independent and transparent process for setting the licence fee and recommends the establishment of a new body called the BBC Funding Commission to help set the licence fee.

In its background introduction the report reminds us that “twenty years ago most people relied on five free-to-air terrestrial channels provided by public service broadcasters (PSBs) with a statutory public service remit. The output of commercial broadcasters was available to only a minority of viewers who subscribed to Sky or cable services. Since then choice has increased dramatically. In 1998 the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Bureau (an independent body which monitors viewing figures) reported on 57 channels, while in 2018 it reported on 342 (at the time of writing this was the most recent year for which figures were available). Television was generally watched at the time of broadcast—recording on VHS was the exception. The introduction of technology such as the digital video recorder (such as TiVo) and internet-enabled catch-up services has enabled viewers to watch TV when it suits them. For some, especially many young people, watching so-called ‘linear’ TV in real-time is now the exception rather than the norm. Viewers also watch content on a range of devices including smartphones, laptops and tablets.”

Faced with a revolution in technology, the unprecedented competition from Netflix, Amazon Prime and other subscription video on demand services and subsequent changes in viewing behaviour, the report includes the following recommendations:

  • Listed sports events: The committee recommends a modest increase in the number of listed sports events, which must be shown free to air. This could include The Ashes and The Open Golf Championship.

  • TV production: The UK production sector is a national success story, but it is at risk of reaching full capacity and overheating. The committee recommends changes to High-End TV tax relief and the Apprenticeship Levy, as well as a review of the Terms of Trade between PSBs and independent producers to determine whether they should still apply to larger companies (see para 125 – 132 of the Report).

  • Regulation and funding: The Government should support PSBs in the new technological environment, and think very carefully before imposing any further regulatory or financial burdens on them. The committee does not support a levy on subscription video on demand services at the moment.

The report’s summary sets out thirty three paragraph recommendations and the report itself has been welcomed by the NUJ. Commenting, General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “This report raises clear alarm bells about the future of public service broadcasting in the UK and the perils it currently faces. Given the current parlous levels of public discourse, and political divisions that exist, quality well-resourced journalism is needed more than ever and public service broadcasting is vital. The NUJ agrees that urgent action is needed to address the challenges public service broadcasting faces and this should be prioritised by the incoming government after the general election.”

Among those giving evidence to the committee were Professor Des Freedman and Dr.Tom Mills from the Media Reform Coalition. Their evidence can be found at:

BECTU (Prospect) the broadcasting union also gave evidence at:

The full report is at:

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“Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed.” Craig Murray Sat, 26 Oct 2019 11:25:18 +0000 Continue reading “Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed.” Craig Murray ]]>  

It was some 15 years ago that Craig Murray first became a thorn in the flesh of the British State. He’d had a distinguished career in the UK diplomatic service, but his last posting in 2002-2004 as British Ambassador, Uzbekistan brought him into conflict with the State. Responsible for the UK’s relationship with Uzbekistan, he found Western support for the dictatorial Karimov regime unacceptable having exposed the human rights violations of the administration. In October 2004 he was removed from his post for his revelations. Since then he has pursued a varied career as an author, broadcaster and human rights activist and was Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. At the 2005 General Election, he stood against Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Blackburn as an Independent candidate, winning 2,082 votes. More recently he has turned his attention to the treatment of Julian Assange, still being held in prison in Belmarsh high security prison, awaiting a hearing scheduled for 25 February on his extradition to the USA.

On 21 October Julian Assange appeared before District Judge Vanessa Baraitser at Westminster Magistrates Court. The hearing was witnessed by Murray who has been following Julian’s case with great interest and concern. He wrote in his blog the following day: “I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

“Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

“But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.

Up until this court appearance Murray had been sceptical of claim that debilitating drugs had been forced on Assange and that his treatment amounted to torture. ”But” he writes “having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

“I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night (the day before the Westminster hearing) that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.

“The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.

“The purpose of yesterday’s (Monday’s) hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.

“The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.”

All of this cut no ice with magistrate Vanessa Baraitser who accepted the prosecution’s case that the defence should be given be no extra time to prepare their case. But there was worse to come. In ruling on where the extradition case will be heard in February Vanessa Baraitser announced that it would take place not at Westminster Court but in Belmarsh Magistrates Court,” the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held.” According to Murray there are only six seats for the public in even the largest court in the complex, thus making public scrutiny of the hearing more difficult.

Oliver concludes: “The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did.

“In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.” He concludes: “Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?”

You can read Craig Murray’s blog at:




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No release for Julian Assange Tue, 17 Sep 2019 14:06:32 +0000 Continue reading No release for Julian Assange ]]> Julian Assange is to remain in prison when his jail term ends because of his “history of absconding”, a judge has ruled. He was due to be released on 22 September after serving his sentence for breaching bail after fleeing to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012. But Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard there were “substantial grounds” for believing he would abscond again.

The Guardian reported on 14 September that District judge Vanessa Baraitser told him: “You have been produced today because your sentence of imprisonment is about to come to an end. When that happens your remand status changes from a serving prisoner to a person facing extradition.

“Therefore I have given your lawyer an opportunity to make an application for bail on your behalf and she has declined to do so, perhaps not surprisingly in light of your history of absconding in these proceedings.

“In my view I have substantial ground for believing if I release you, you will abscond again.”

Assange was asked if he understood what was happening. He replied: “Not really. I’m sure the lawyers will explain it.”

Another administrative hearing will take place on 11 October and a case management hearing on 21 October, the court heard.

He will face a full extradition hearing next year, starting on 25 February.

Meanwhile the NUJ has condemned the British government for its treatment of Julian Assange. NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet told the Morning Star on 20 September: “The NUJ is firmly opposed to the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States.”

She said: “We condemned the British government’s decision to sign off the extradition request in June because it is a direct attack on the freedom of the press and journalists’ ability to work with sources to reveal information in the public interest.”

The Morning Star also reports that UN special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer, who visited Mr Assange in prison found evidence of psychological torture on him. Mr. Melzer told the Star he was “appalled” at how the government is treating the journalist.


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Playing and saying it for Julian Assange…but did you know? Thu, 05 Sep 2019 17:16:18 +0000 Continue reading Playing and saying it for Julian Assange…but did you know? ]]> Last Monday evening up to 1,000 people gathered in central London to hear internationally acclaimed musician Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd) deliver a musical tribute to imprisoned WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange. Waters performed outside the UK Home Office, just a few miles from the high security Belmarsh Prison where Julian is being held as a Category A prisoner, singing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” written by him and David Gilmour in 1975. Veteran investigative journalist and film maker John Pilger delivered an impassioned speech and was joined by Julian’s brother Gabriel Shipton. The event appears to have been the subject of a main-stream media blackout, except by the Morning Star and the television station RT. But it can be found on YouTube ( ).

As some of you may recall, the song is about Syd Barrett, the original lead and chief songwriter of Pink Floyd, who left the group in 1968 after his mental and physical health and reliabity deteriorated due to heavy drug use. A melancholy song and perhaps their saddest, the performance was well received by those who packed the forecourt and pavement on both sides of Marsham Street in Westminster, who cheered Roger and guitarist Andrew Fairweather Low who  accompanied him.

The event was opened with an impassioned speech John Pilger. Pointing in the direction of the Home Office, Pilger told the crowd: “The behaviour of the British government towards Julian Assange is a disgrace. A profanity on the very notion of human rights. It’s no exaggeration to say that the treatment and persecution of Julian Assange is the way that dictatorships treat a political prisoner.”

Pilger said he had spoken with Assange over the weekend: “When I asked Julian what he would like me to say today, he was adamant. ‘Say it’s not just me. It’s much wider. It’s all of us. It’s all journalists and publishers who do their job who are in danger’.”

As John Pilger pointed out, Julian Assange is not a US citizen and Wikileaks is not a US publisher, yet Trump wants him silenced and punished for telling us just what is being done by governments in secret and in our name.

He concluded: “Seventeen out of the 18 charges that Julian faces in the US refer to the routine work of an investigative journalist, which is protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution…. The whole thing is a sham.

“That’s why Julian is locked up for 21 hours a day in a maximum-security prison and treated worse than a murderer. He is to be made an example of. What happens to Julian Assange and to Chelsea Manning is meant to intimidate us, to frighten us into silence.

“By defending Julian Assange, we defend our most sacred rights. Speak up now or wake up one morning to the silence of a new kind of tyranny. The choice is ours.”

Julian’s brother Gabriel Shipton spoke, recounting his visit to Belmarsh Prison last month. “I hugged him, and he told me that this place he was in was hell.  As Julian’s brother… I call on the UK home secretary to block extradition to the USA.”

With so much media attention focused on the continuing Brexit saga and their reluctance to highlight Julian Assange’s case as he languishes in jail for jumping bail, it’s a struggle to get coverage for the campaign in support of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning who is still in jail after refusing to testify before a US grand jury investigating Wikileaks.

The prospect of a general election in the next few weeks presents an opportunity to raise the demand against extradition and to put the political parties on the spot as to where they stand in this important struggle for journalists’ right to report and our right to know.

A fuller report of Monday’s event can be found on the World Socialist Web Site at:



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Tens of thousands celebrate the 135th Durham Miners Gala where campaigners highlight the proposed rendition of Julian Assange to the US Sat, 27 Jul 2019 18:51:39 +0000 Continue reading Tens of thousands celebrate the 135th Durham Miners Gala where campaigners highlight the proposed rendition of Julian Assange to the US ]]> Saturday 13 July saw a massive turn out at the 135th Big Meeting organised by the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) now in its 150th year. The organisers claim that the Gala is the largest celebration of community and working class culture in the world and is a tribute to the DMA who have revived the celebrations in recent years, giving it stronger community, national and international involvements. Despite the brutal shutting down of the UK’s mining industry following the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike and the devastation of their communities which threatened the very future of the the DMA, the Big Meeting goes from strength to strength.

Much of this is due to the setting up in 2015 of MARRAS, the Friends of Durham Miners’ Gala. The Friends was set up by the Durham Miners’ Association, together with several major trade unions, to secure the long-term future of the Gala. Their aims is to bring together individuals and groups to support the Gala financially and create a fund to cover the costs of running it as well as to support various community banner groups. By working together they aim to make sure that the principles carried forward over the Gala’s long history are upheld for generations to come. You can find out more and join by going to:

Despite Saturday’s mid morning rain, the crowds, many of whom had marched behind their local banners, greeted the platform speakers with enthusiasm. None more so than local MP Laura Pidcock MP who was cheered to the overcast skies. She spoke strongly against the prospect of a Johnson led government which she saw as continuing Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberal economic free market policies. “Disillusion and disappointment haunt our communities”, she said with exploitation being commonplace, yet invisible.

Other women platform speakers were Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow attorney general, and Rebecca Long Bailey, bringing a better gender balance to the platform than in previous years. The crowd also heard from other platform speakers including Len McCluskey, head of Unite, Dave Ward head of the Communications Workers Union and Dave Prentis of UNISON. But it was left to Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn to set out the party’s radical alternative vision for the future, seeking to heal the divisions brought about by the 2016 referendum. He reassured listeners that anti Semitism and racism would not be tolerated. As the rain cleared the Labour leader said that he wanted to lead a Labour government that would transform society and offer real hope to the next generation. The sun came out and the appreciative crowd gave him an enthusiastic send off especially following his commitment that a future Labour government would investigate police violence against the miners during the 1984/85 strike including that which took place at Orgreave in South Yorkshire.

Another important feature of the Gala is the presence of dozens of trade union, community, political and campaigning organisations promoting their campaigns. This year there was a stall in support of the campaign to stop the deportation of the WikiLeaks founder and journalist Julian Assange to the United States. It was organised by the Socialist Equality Party, who also interviewed me about the case (see

Julian faces extradition proceedings following a decision last month by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid (now Chancellor of the Exchequer) to agree to extradition proceeding in the British courts. The decision came a few days after an attempt to extradite him to Sweden suffered a setback after a court in Uppsala said he did not need to be detained. According to press reports, the ruling by the district court prevents Swedish prosecutors from immediately applying for an extradition warrant for Assange to face an allegation of rape dating back to 2010, which he denies.

Incidentally if you want to read a very thorough account of the attempts by the Swedish authorities to secure Julian’s extradition, you can do no better than turn to the account given by Geoffrey Robinson QC in his excellent book ‘Rather his Own Man’ published last year (see Chapter 14 ‘Assange in Ecuador’). Geoffrey describes in great detail how the US had been hurt by a “pesky Australian”, ‘so they targeted him by grand jury proceedings and the military took out its anger on young Chelsea Manning, treating her abominably in prison, until Hilary Clinton’s press spokesman, P.J. Crowley, resigned in protest…’ ( in March 2011.) Geoffrey Robinson, a world famous human rights lawyer, defended Julian against extradition proceedings in the United Kingdom some 9 years ago. Chelsea is now in prison for a second time for refusing to testify to a US federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. She continues to object to the “secrecy of the grand jury process” and now faces a fine of $500 for every day she refuses to testify.

The threats to both Julian and Chelsea are serious. Julian faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison in the US if convicted of all the charges against him, which is why a strong world-wide campaign is urgently needed.

After the WikiLeaks founder was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and arrested earlier this year, NUJ assistant general secretary Seamus Dooley said: “The NUJ is shocked and concerned by the actions of the authorities today in relation to Julian Assange. His lawyer has confirmed he has been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions, but also in relation to a US extradition request.

“The UK should not be acting on behalf of the Trump administration in this case. The NUJ recognises the inherent link between and importance of leaked confidential documents and journalism reporting in the public interest.

“It should be remembered that in April 2010 WikiLeaks released Collateral Murder, a video showing a 2007 US Apache helicopter attack upon individuals in Baghdad, more than 23 people were killed including two Reuters journalists. The manner in which Assange is treated will be of great significance to the practice of journalism.”

At last month’s International Federation of Journalists Congress (IFJ) in Tunisia, the NUJ supported an emergency motion highlighting the severe dangers to journalism posed by the recent indictments filed by the US government against Julian Assange. Congress called for this to be resisted by the governments of UK and Australia, highlighting how the decision to prosecute, for the receipt and publication of information clearly in the public interest, is clearly at odds with previous decisions of the US Supreme Court to protect First Amendment rights.

These are solid foundations to strengthen the international campaign to get the charges dropped against Julian and strike a blow for press freedom and the right to report in the public interest. In the meantime the plight of Chelsea Manning must not be forgotten. Let us do our best to make sure both of them are free by the time the Gala meets next year. As the campaigning journalist and film maker John Pilger says; “Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange are as brave and principled as any who struggled for historic rights of freedom for all,”

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After Istanbul will it be business as usual? Wed, 17 Jul 2019 17:00:01 +0000 Continue reading After Istanbul will it be business as usual? ]]> Not according to a recent briefing by CEFTUS, the UK based Centre for Turkish Studies who reported on 11 July that dissidents within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are on the brink of forming an alternative party which could deprive the government of its majority in Parliament.

CEFTUS reports that a founding member of the AKP has resigned, setting in motion the setting up of a new party. As former Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey responsible for the Economy, Ali Babacan built a reputation as a competent figure trusted by the country’s European allies and the markets. He is now understood to be in discussions with other ‘moderate’ AKP figures, including former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and former President Abdullah Gul.

Rumours of a split from within the AKP have intensified since the AKP’s defeat in Istanbul last month, which sent shock waves through the ruling party showing that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was no longer a winner. This plus tensions within the party over Erdogan’s centralisation of power and the failing economy could represent a serious challenge to his authority.

That’s not to say that it’s been all change overnight. Journalists and others are still be dragged before the courts. But today there was some good news when the 13th High Criminal Court in Istanbul acquitted two journalists and a human rights activist of terrorism charges.

Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative for press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), journalist Ahmet Nesin, and Sebnem Korur Fincanci, chairwoman of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation, were arrested in June 2016.

The three defendants had been accused of spreading terrorist propaganda for their work with a Kurdish newspaper, which has since been closed down. But the three maintained they were defending free speech amid a clampdown by President Erdoğan.

Applause erupted in the courtroom as the verdict was read out and the decision was welcomed by the IFJ/EFJ and any other press freedom organisations.

Earlier the European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ/IFJ) had called for their acquittal and release. Erol Önderoğlu, was facing 14 years and six months in jail over “terror propaganda”. He was charged because of his participation in 2016 as temporary editor-in-chief to the production of Özgür Gündem daily newspaper as part of the Editors in Chief on Watch campaign.

The Editors in Chief on Watch was a solidarity action organised from May to August 2016 by the now-closed Özgür Gündem newspaper, a pro-Kurdish rights publication subjected to multiple investigations and lawsuits. Önderoğlu was one of the 56 prominent journalists and activists who acted as ‘editor for the day’ and published three articles in the daily on 18 May 2016. The campaign was intended to draw attention to the Turkish authorities’ long-standing attempts to put pressure on the publication and its journalists.

Meanwhile the National Union of Journalist’s national executive passed the following motion at its meeting last Friday:

“Journalism in Turkey

This NEC welcomes the release from prison in Istanbul of Ayşe Düzkan six months into her 18 month sentence for her bogus crimes as a journalist. This NEC notes with regret, however, that she is still being required to undertake unpaid ‘community payback’ style work.

This NEC notes that by publicising the case of Ayşe Düzkan, and involving branches in the campaign for her release, the NUJ successfully drew attention to the plight of journalists in Turkey. This NEC calls for this work to continue and asks the General Secretary and chair of the Policy Committee to identify another journalist jailed in Turkey that they union can ‘adopt’.

This NEC notes that Turkey is still the world’s biggest jailer of journalists and that President Erdogan’s assault on Turkey’s media continues unabated.

This NEC further notes and condemns the report by the Washington DC-based Foundation for Political Economic and Social Research, or SETA (a think tank with close links to Erdogan’s Justice And Development Party) that has publicly identified reporters working in Turkey for international organisations, and accusing them of bias against the government.

This NEC notes that the journalists named and condemned in the report include reporters from the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Eurovision as well as the Voice of America and others.

This NEC concurs with our sister union the Turkish Union of Journalists, which considers that the report illegally “recorded personal information” as well as “inciting people to hatred.”

The NEC calls on the General Secretary to ensure that campaigning to expose the terrible treatment of journalist in Turkey is a prominent feature in our campaigning on international matters.”



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