Rallies defend Wikileaks and the ‘right to know’
More than 1000 people rallied at Sydney’s Town Hall at 1pm on December 10 to show their support for Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. Rallies also occurred in Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth.
The rally, held to coincide with International Human Rights Day, highlighted the importance of freedom of information and the need for transparency in government.
“We have a right to know about our government's operations and the circumstances and behind their decisions and policies,” said Simon Frew from the Pirate Party.
Independent journalist Antony Loewenstein chaired the event. He said much of the mainstream press had dismissed the recent Wikileaks revelations.
Loewenstein addressed the media present: “The question is this: is your job to be an insider and a player, or someone who actually cares about the truth?”
It is the job of journalists to hold governments to account. “It’s not that complicated”, he said.
“As Australian citizens we reject monitoring, we promote transparency and we praise Wikileaks and Assange for that."
Loewenstein quoted veteran journalist Laurie Oakes saying: “Freedom of information, free press and non-censorship is the only way a free society can operate.”
Greens Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon also spoke. She acknowledged the courage of whistle-blowers, agreeing with popular sentiment that, “Clearly, the world needs Wikileaks”.
“Julian Assange is an Australian”, she said. “That makes me and I’m sure it makes you feel very proud.
"But we can certainly not feel proud of our government.
“Ms Gillard has said that Wikileaks activities are illegal, but she can't tell us what the laws are that they have broken.”
Green Left Weekly co-editor Simon Butler called on Julian Assange to be considered for the Australian of the Year award. He said the government should be respecting media freedom and supporting Wikileaks, not attempting to silence it.
“How is it possible that a prominent political figure in the US can call for the assassination of an Australian citizen, and our government doesn't say back off, they say nothing.
“Only one thing could be worse, if our voice doesn’t drown out Gillard’s.”
Butler also condemned the companies who had shut down Wikileaks’ use of their services.
“To any corporation or any government who wants to stand in the way of the truth, who wants to silence Wikileaks, our message today is: you’re not going to win.”
Following their refusal to service Wikileaks, the websites of Paypal, MasterCard and Visa suffered ongoing DDoS (denial of service) attacks rendering them temporarily offline as part of “Operation Payback” organised by online activist group Anonymous.
Other speakers included David Shoebridge from the NSW Greens, acting director of GetUp! Sam McLean and Asher Wolf from WLCentral.org.
Members of the crowd held signs declaring “Julian not Julia”, “Supporting Assange not terrorism” and “In Wikileaks we trust”.
In Melbourne, 1500 people marched in the evening of December 10. Protesters staged a sit-in on La Trobe Street in the city, disrupting peak hour traffic.
In Brisbane, 350 protesters marched in defence of Wikileaks on the evening of December 9.The next day, 400 people rallied outside the offices of the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Protesters then marched through the CBD to the rousing chant of “Free Julian Now!”
Speakers at the December 10 protest included: Greens representative Andrew Bartlett; radical academic Gary McLennan; the lawyer for victimised Indian Doctor Mohamed Haneef; Sri Lankan campaigner for Tamil rights Dr Brian Senewiratne; pro-Choice women’s rights activist member Kathy Newnam; anti-war veterans’ organisation Steadfast spokesperson Hamish Chitts; and Socialist Alliance co-convenor Jim McIlroy.
About 100 people rallied in Perth on December 10 to mark International Human Rights Day. A key demand of the protest was defence of Wikileaks. About 150 people also rallied in an angry protest in Hobart on December 11.
More than 500 people marched outside Parliament House Adelaide on December 12.
There have also been protests in support of Wikileaks in Spain and other countries. A protest is scheduled in London for the evening of December 13 outside the Australian embassy.
In Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, further protests have been called for the evening of December 14 to coincide with a court hearing for Wikileaks editor-in chief Julian Assange in London. In Sydney, the newly formed Supporters of Wikileaks Coalition has also called a protest for January 15, which it hopes is taken up as a date for protests nationally and internationally.
The secret cables released by Wikileaks so far have revealed details of war crimes in Sri Lanka, vows to extend war in the Middle East, moves by the US to undermine countries in Latin America and evidence oil company Shell had infiltrated the Nigerian government (which is infamous for human rights abuses against anti-Shell activists).
Below: Green Left co-editor Simon Butler addresses the Sydney rally, December 10.