There was a big turnout at Sydney University’s Great Hall on March 4 for the fifth hearing of the Belmarsh Tribunal into the persecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Powerful testimonies were made from a range of journalists, politicians, lawyers and intellectuals, including former ABC 7.30 host Kerry O’Brien, Jennifer Robinson, Bernard Collaery, Progressive International founder Yanis Varoufakis, Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Afghanistan war crimes whistleblower David McBride and Kellie Tranter.
Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum called for Assange’s release: Greens Senator David Shoebridge, former Labor New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, Labor MP Josh Wilson and Liberal MP Bridget Archer.
One of the most moving testimonies came from Dean Yates, former Reuters Iraq bureau chief. Two of his Iraqi staff, photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh, were shot dead by a United States Apache helicopter on July 12, 2007, in Baghdad, along with other innocent civilians.
This war crime was captured in a secret military video and leaked to Wikileaks by US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
The publication of this shocking video footage, now titled Collateral Murder, was the main reason why Assange is being persecuted, Yates said, yet it is not mentioned in the charges.
Assange is, however, charged with publishing the US military’s rules of engagement in Iraq, Yates added, “the same rules which make this killing a war crime”.
Assange, who has been imprisoned on remand for nearly four years in Britain’s notorious high-security Belmarsh Prison, is facing deportation to the US where he faces charges under that country’s Espionage Act 1917, which could impose a cumulative jail term of 175 years.
The Belmarsh Tribunal — inspired by the 1966 Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal, which collected testimonies on US war crimes in Vietnam — was initiated by the Progressive International in 2020.
It has previously convened hearings, first virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, then in London, New York City and Washington DC.
The Sydney hearing called on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to deliver on his election promise and demand that the US abandon its persecution of Assange when he meets US President Joe Biden later this month.
[A video recording of the Sydney Belmarsh Tribunal hearing can be watched here.]