John Shipton on Julian Assange: ‘14 years of arbitrary detention makes you fight harder’

April 19, 2022
Photo: Still taken from film promotion of Ithaca

John Shipton addressed questions after the premiere of Ithaka in Brisbane on April 11. The film is directed by Ben Lawrence and produced by Gabriel Shipton is about the campaign to free his son Julian Assange. It is screening across the country. His answers have been slightly abridged.

How is Julian holding up under the incredible pressures he has been subjected to?

Not the best. His spirits have lifted considerably since he married Stella in jail. We couldn’t use the chapel because the service was secular, so we were in this little white room. But love transcends the deprivation and circumstances of Julian moving into the 14th year of arbitrary detention.

Would you comment on the court case brought by war criminal Ben Roberts-Smith?

I can’t, but I can tell you a bit about some of the war crimes that were revealed [by Wikileaks] and the results.

One particular war crime involved a group of soldiers in the United States army outside Baghdad going into a house and murdering all the occupants. Mum and dad, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, grandfathers and grandmothers. And then contemplating this crime, they called in an airstrike and obliterated the house and all those people from the Earth forever.

This was reported in the cables and, as a consequence, it was read by the parliamentarians of Iraq and their institutions. Somehow that destroyed nation managed to gather together the courage and demand the US remove its forces from Iraq, the means of which were refusing to sign the status of forces agreement, which means the occupying soldiers were removed from ordinary laws. Refusing to sign it meant that anything those soldiers did, they would be brought before the courts so those soldiers would be removed.

So a leak from Chelsea Manning and published by Wikileaks caused the end of a war.

There was no mention of the Australian government response to this. Have you heard anything directly?

No. They used to send me consular reports, but they don’t anymore. They could utter the mantra that we have done a hundred consular contacts with Julian or his lawyers and I just reply that a hundred contacts is a barometer of a dismal failure.

Julian has been locked up now for 14 years. The United Nations working group on arbitrary detention states that Julian has been arbitrarily detained and ought to be given compensation by Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Nils Melzer, the United Nations rapporteur on torture, has described the psychological torture over that period of Julian Assange and made that determination, known to the Swedish government and the United Kingdom government. He read that out his report to the UN General Assembly. Nils has written a book revealing the contortions, illegalities and collapse of proper due process. All are irrefutable.

But the Australian government is acquiescent. And acquiescence after this amount of time is complicity. It is disgraceful. 

Have you had any conversations with the Labor Opposition? 

Yes I met Mr Albanese twice: once for lunch and once at parliament house in his rooms. He did make a declaration in a caucus meeting that enough is enough and Julian should be brought home. Also there are a number of members of the Labor Party in the Assange parliamentary group.

Can you tell us about Julian’s early life growing up in Queensland?

We weren’t together then but it is described very well in Rob Connolly’s film Underground that is available on Netflix and Amazon. It is a really beautiful little film and worth a look.

I’ve written to Scott Morrison twice, in July, mainly about Julian in July but the second one was about the submarines. He didn't reply. We want to know the answers to these questions before the election.

That’s our job now to put the question to the candidates and the parliamentarians. It’s our job as citizens to ensure this cruel wrong to Julian Assange, who has brought considerable gifts to the people of the world that care about war crimes. That’s our job.

They respond to social movements. That’s their job, to listen to what we want. Our job is to make sure they hear what we want. And doing this — films and meetings and letters — will ensure that they hear. Your actions will add to a growing tide which spreads right around the world.

In the Greek parliament, there are 300 parliamentarians and 90 of them are in the Assange group. Last month, the French National Assembly devoted one hour of its time to a debate on whether to offer Julian asylum in France. In the Bundestag, there is a cross-party group of 30. In every single parliament in Europe, there is an Assange group.

In every single parliament in South America, there is an Assange group. The Mexican president himself makes constant statements supporting Julian. There is a vast upwelling of support right around the world.

How many members of the Liberal Party are members of the Assange group? 

I think the number of Liberal party members is four. We started three years ago with two Australian parliamentarians — Peter Wish-Wilson and Andrew Wilkie. The first parliamentary group in the world started here and swelled to 30 parliamentarians.

Barnaby Joyce, when sick in Washington, addressed the press to say Assange must be brought home and that he had committed no crimes.

How hard was it witnessing your son go to jail for opening the eyes of the world? 

When you’re a parent, the harder they push against your children, the stronger you become until you become furious, but on a slow boil. You don’t use up all your energy frothing at the mouth. You just march along until you get some success. And the success is here right in front of us. You people here are the success. Thank you.

Senator Wish-Wilson was on a recent podcast with former Senator Scott Ludlam and they were both very confident that the Australian government could pick up the phone and turn things around. I’m reminded of David Hicks languishing in Guantanamo [Bay Detention Centre] for five years. Are you optimistic that the incoming government could pick up the phone and do something?

There are two good elements here: one is to place pressure on the government by exposing matters in the Federal Court and the media reporting on the inadequacy of their response. The other one is that Australia is strategically vital to the United States.

So we are strategically extremely powerful but politically extremely feeble. Changing those things is our job and one of those aspects is to bring a case before the Federal Court that the government feels it has to act.

The third element is the government getting an understanding that its parliamentary members are so concerned that they will delay or put an amendment on a bill that insists that they bring Julian home.

Another thing is that Caroline Kennedy is the new US Ambassador. She is JFK’s daughter and that family is more or less friendly to us. 

In the film there was a moment in which you felt that there was no hope. How are you feeling now?

You know the terrible truth is that it didn’t get better; it got worse. You’ve got to face these things. It was a year ago, now it got worse. He is still in jail; he had to get married in jail. It just makes you fight harder, that’s all.

[A lifestream of this event can be found here.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.