Citizens, journalists, artists, human rights organisations and journalists’ unions gathered on January 29th in Brussels to call on the Belgian government to do its utmost to protect Julian Assange and impede his extradition to the United States.
The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) joined the two Belgian civil society organisations, Carta Academica and Belgium4Assange, in two public actions organised in Brussels to defend freedom of expression, freedom of the press and our right to know in general, and Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Sarah Harrison and Edward Snowden in particular.
Over 120 personalities, artists, activists and journalists and a dozen organisations, including the International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ), signed a joint petition to the Belgian authorities to urge action on Julian Assange’s case. The text asks the Belgian government to recognise Julian Assange as a political prisoner, send observers to his trial, grant him international protection and do its utmost to impede his extradition to the US.
“This text calls on the Belgian government to recognise Julian Assange as a political prisoner, to send observers to his trial, to grant him international protection and to do everything possible to prevent his extradition to the United States,” said Vincent Engel, representative of Carta Academica, at the Palais des Académies.
The event also served as a ceremony to grant an Academic Honoris Causa title to four whistleblowers for their contributions to citizens’ right to know by denouncing crimes and state secrets. This honorary title was granted to Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Sarah Harisson and Julian Assange, whose father, John Shipton received it on his behalf.
“We are receiving lots of support from all over the world, also in Europe. Recently, the Council of Europe voted unanimously against Julian’s extradition and calling for his immediate release. All these actions are very important. Thank you all for all the efforts you are doing, especially to the IFJ”, John Shipton said after receiving the title.
IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, also sent an official request to the Commune of Brussels –the local council of the city- to provide Julian Assange with the Brussels’ honorary citizenship. The request was rapidly accepted by its mayor.
“I solemnly asked today the commune of Brussels and its mayor to recognise Julian Assange as an honorary citizen of Brussels. Assange’s father, John Shipton, said he will be delighted to come to the Grand Place, in the heart of Europe, to receive the title on behalf of Julian. I am at the disposal of the Mayor of Brussels to organise everything”, said Anthony Bellanger.
“I am very happy today to celebrate with you these modern-day heroes who have sacrificed themselves to defend the citizens’ right to know,” said Edwy Plenel, founder and president of Mediapart.
“Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Sarah Harrisson are the resistance fighters of the 21st century. They sacrificed their freedom and lives for telling the truth,” added Anthony Bellanger, standing on the fourth chair of Davide Dormino’s sculpture, “Anything to say”, at Place de la Monnaie in Brussels, renamed Place Julian-Assange for the occasion.
Meanwhile UK journalist Roy Greenslade writing in The Guardian on 2 February points out that Assange has been charged with 17 counts under the US Espionage Act of 1917, each of which carries a 10-year sentence, and one of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion”, which carries a five-year maximum sentence. He could therefore be jailed for 175 years. The article goes on to argue that the aim of the charges is to halt whistleblowers and stop journalists giving them a platform.
He concludes: “I would like to see Britain’s editors – national, regional and local – get to grips with this case in advance of the first hearing, due to start on 24 February, and then to issue a considered statement, probably through the Society of Editors, opposing Assange’s extradition. At the same time, they need to alert their readers and pressure politicians, in order to highlight the injustice of this prosecution and why it is so important. They don’t have to change their minds about the man’s character. They just need to stick to the principle.
I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to see a parallel between the Assange case and the Dreyfus affair in the 1890s, in which a Jewish artillery captain in the French army was falsely convicted of spying. At least Dreyfus was eventually released from Devil’s Island. If the US gets its hands on Assange, there will be precious little hope of escape.
It is sobering to note that Manning, whose original sentence was commuted, is now in jail because she refuses to testify against Assange. She, too, is a hero of press freedom.”
Speaking at a London rally on 4 February in defence of Julian, NUJ national executive member Tim Dawson said that the judicial instruments being used against Julian Assange are a monstrous attack on press freedom,
Unless journalists wake up to this threat and focus on the grievous harm that his successful prosecution represents, the ability of any of us to report will be seriously damaged, he said. The rally, called by the Don’t Extradite Julian Assange Campaign, was held in anticipation of Assange extradition hearings, expected to start at Woolwich Crown Court on Monday 24 February.
An audience estimated at 600 also heard from Jen Robinson, Assange’s barrister, John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, and Kristinn Hrafnsson, and Wikileaks editor-in-chief.
Tim Dawson said:
“Debating whether Assange is, or is not, really a journalist is irrelevant at this moment. So are judgements on his past behaviour or character. The legal devices being deployed to try and take him to the US are unprecedented and terrifying for anyone whose journalism touches on state security, defence or espionage. If Assange is sent from here to start a prison sentence that could be as long as 175 years, then no journalist is safe.”
Sources: EFJ web site: https://europeanjournalists.org/blog/2020/01/30/assange-snowden-manning-and-harrison-are-the-resistance-fighters-of-the-21st-century/
Roy Greenslade: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/feb/02/press-freedom-is-at-risk-if-we-allow-julian-assanges-extradition?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX01lZGlhQnJpZWZpbmctMjAwMjAz&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=media_email&utm_campaign=MediaBriefing
NUJ website: https://www.nuj.org.uk/news/assange-extradition-a-devastating-blow-for-media-freedom/