Bring Julian Assange home appeal

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning and journalist Julian Assange.

Below is an appeal, initiated by Michael Rubbo and signed by many journalists, to the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) to pull out all stops to do more to get Julian Assange released.

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We are a diverse group of people, many of whom originally came together in 2018 to work for the release of James Ricketson from his Cambodian jail. We now reunite to push for the release of Julian Assange who is currently very ill in Britain’s Belmarsh prison as he awaits extradition to either the United States or Sweden.

On May 9, he was visited by UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer: “Our finding is that Mr Assange shows all the symptoms of a person who has been exposed to psychological torture over a long period of time.”

He is so ill in fact that he was not able to appear, even by video link, at the Westminster Magistrate’s Court on May 30.

Melzer went on: “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law. The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”

On April 12, the MEAA wrote an excellent letter of support for Julian, saying in part. “We believe the persecution of WikiLeaks personnel will have a chilling effect on the public’s right to know what governments do in the name of their citizens.”

Since then, Julian’s been charged under the US Espionage Act which makes his fate even more dire. This is an unprecedented assault on press freedom which has alarmed media outlets worldwide, many of which have been largely silent about his fate in recent times, but who now realize that their future very much depends on what happens to Julian.

A recent New York Times editorial called the indictment “a marked escalation in the effort to prosecute Assange which could have a chilling effect on American journalism as it has been practised for generations … The new charges focus on receiving and publishing classified material from a government source. That is something journalists do all the time.”

Trevor Timm, director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, calls these charges “the most significant and terrifying threat to the First Amendment in the 21st century.”

Since the first release of the Collateral Murders video, exposing war crimes in Iraq in 2010, WikiLeaks has never been accused of publishing anything that was not true.

Indeed, it is the very truth of its reports which has so infuriated authorities. WikiLeaks’ publishing record is quite amazing. Not only have they never published anything proven to be untrue, but they have never published personally sensational or salacious material, nor have they published for profit.

It is an extraordinary record of public service which has been carried out in many cases in partnership with respected mainstream media outlets such as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais and Der Spiegel.

It’s an effort which in the past has rightly earned the full support of the MEAA. The Alliance celebrated Julian's 2011 Walkley Award for his “outstanding contribution to journalism” and heaped praise on Assange for his fearless public service, all with good reason.

We hope that this letter will encourage both the MEAA and member journalists to now pull out all the stops for Julian. How wonderful it would be if, at some future date, we and the MEAA could say: “We played a major part in bringing Julian home.”

If he were to die in custody as seems quite possible given what is being reported, it will not be just a blow to press freedom, but a shame on our national honour forever.

At this late stage, there may be a glimmer of hope — ironically, charging Julian under the US Espionage Act makes this a political extradition that both the Australian and British governments have the legal power to stop, especially since crimes under the US Espionage Act have been known to carry the death penalty.

We call on authorities in Australia and Britain to do all they can, including medical and consular assistance to save Julian from harm and bring him home.

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