Hundreds of protesters rallied in support of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks and its editor in chief, Julian Assange, in Sydney on January 15. Other rallies also took place in major cities around the world.
The rally, which began at Sydney’s Town Hall, was addressed by several key speakers. The protesters later took to the streets for a loud and lively march, which went past the US consulate and ended at Hyde Park.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge expressed the importance of "global free speech" and spoke against Prime Minister Julia Gillard's claim in December that Wikileaks was “unlawful".
“The actions of Wikileaks are not only lawful, they are essential for fostering free speech in the 21st Century,” he said.
Assange, now on bail in Britain, will face a new court hearing on February 7 over Sweden’s attempt to extradite him for questioning over recent "sex crime" allegations.
Swedish prosecutors have refused several offers to question Assange in London about the allegations or to interview him via video link.
Investigative journalist Wendy Bacon told the rally: “Everyday in our courts in Australia and throughout the world, people are held in prison and have to appear through video link. But somehow an interview with an uncharged person cannot be done through video link."
Rally-goers showed great concern for the US soldier Bradley Manning. Bacon said Manning, who has been held by US authorities in solitary confinement for the past five months on suspicion he leaked US classified information to Wikileaks is “a hero of free information in our age”.
Independent journalist Antony Loewenstein urged the crowd to keep defending Wikileaks and media freedom. “In 2011, what many of us and the public demand is greater transparency, greater freedom, a less compliant press and a government that actually stands up for its citizens.”
One rally-goer told Green Left Weekly: “Information belongs to the people. If we are supposed to relate to our governments, we need to know what they’re doing and their secrets need to be exposed.”
The protest was also addressed by Support Wikileaks Coalition member Kiraz Janicke, Pirate Party spokesperson Rodney Serkowski and NSW Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance vice-president Marcus Strom. Rally chairperson Simon Frew also read out a statement of support from the ABC broadcaster Phillip Adams.
In recognition of the flood disaster in Queensland, the Support Wikileaks Coalition collected donations for flood relief at the rally.