Protesters demand Julian Assange be set free

Sydney protest for Julian Assange on February 24. Photo: People for Assange/Twitter

A protest organised by People for Assange called for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be set free.

The February 24 protest was part of an international day of action to coincide with the beginning of legal proceedings in Britain, launched by the United States government that wants to extradite Assange to face trumped-up espionage charges.

Rally chair and former SBS news presenter Mary Kostakidis said: “No journalist anywhere will be safe if the US succeeds in extraditing Julian Assange from Britain”. She said if Assange was convicted, he would face 175 years in a supermax prison similar to the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp.

“Journalism is not espionage. The purpose of the case against Assange is to intimidate all journalists worldwide against reporting the truth about war crimes and revealing government secrets. Only a mobilised public opinion can save Julian Assange. We must act now to defend our democracy,” Kostakidis said.

Former ABC journalist Quentin Dempster explained that the US government is using the Espionage Act extra territorially for the first time since it was passed in 1917. “A conviction of Julian Assange would open the door to a broad attack on press freedom,” he said.

Former ABC and SBS journalist and barrister Mark Davis said: “This is not a genuine legal case; the charges are bogus. He will be found guilty. The only thing that can save Assange is a strong political movement.”

Independent journalist Wendy Bacon said that Assange had been a member of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance since 2007 and that the union has issued a warning about the profound threat to press freedom if he is convicted.

“In Australia, the AFP [Australian Federal Police] raids on a journalist’s home and the ABC offices are a result of laws which can jail journalists for telling the truth,” she said.

Journalist and filmmaker John Pilger said that US authorities must believe that “investigative journalists are a greater security threat than terrorists”, pointing to the Pentagon’s smear campaign against Assange. “WikiLeaks has become US security threat Number 1 because it has told us how wars are begun, how spying on citizens occurs and [it has revealed] all the dirty secrets of the state.

“Assange is now isolated in [Belmarsh] prison, subject to all kinds of psychological torture”, he said adding that he must be rescued “from this living hell”. “The government of Australia has a responsibility to defend Assange. If he is extradited and dies in an American hell-hole, Scott Morrison is in trouble,” Pilger said.

Human rights lawyer Greg Barns, Sydney University professor Stuart Rees, psychologist Dr Lissa Johnson, Father Dave Smith and representatives of Amnesty International and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties also addressed the protest before it marched to the British Consulate at Circular Quay.