Human rights lawyer Lizzie O’Shea spoke at a July 1 rally in Melbourne organised by the WikiLeaks Australian Citizens Alliance. Her speech is below.
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These are dangerous times: when speaking truth to power has the potential to cost you your freedom.
There can be no doubt that the US is planning to get their hands on Assange — we may not know exactly how or exactly when. But anyone who dismisses this as paranoid is foolish at best and willfully blind at worst.
If Assange ends up in the US, there are good grounds to think that he will be treated in a manner that would do the tyrants of history proud.
Let’s consider their track record:
• Guantanamo Bay has been open over 10 years, it holds people that the US knows it cannot charge, but cannot be released either.
• In both Gitmo and secret prisons around the world, the US is holding people indefinitely without charge, subjecting them to torture (within the meaning of international law).
• Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have leaked this material, was held in circumstances that are tanatmount to torture, with long periods in solitary confinement
• [US President Barack] Obama has proven himself to be the worst president in America's history if you are a whistleblower.
Assange is up against an enemy that has form in trashing the rule of law and systematically undermining human rights. But it is not just Assange, it is all of us — if we don’t speak out about this, and defend Assange, these abuses of human rights are normalised as a part of American foreign and domestic policy.
When the US treats human beings like this, it sets a benchmark for power everywhere — that it can crush its enemies with abandon. So as a lawyer, it greatly concerns me, and as a lawyer, I completely support and understand his bid for asylum.
It is so important to focus on what WikiLeaks achieved. A free press is vital to our democracy: we need a press that exposes injustice, champions the cause of the disenfranchised, that keeps mining magnates in their place, that reveals the paucity of political debate in this country and strives to generate public debate that contributes to a fairer and more just society.
WikiLeaks has played an important part in that: by telling us what politicians actually think, by demonstrating how big business works and by giving people a sense that power can be challenged.
But this upsets things: it disrupts traditional circles of privilege and reveals the power capital can have when it seeks to control a free press (I'm looking at you Gina).
We need more organisations that speak truth to power, more individuals that risk their lives to show that the emperor has no clothes — because without them, the rule of law and human rights stand little chance of survival in the tide towards barbarism. Keep fighting, keep standing strong, history will prove us right.