Confined in a maximum security prison, ‘Britain’s Guantanamo’, for telling the truth
There are many people the world over with no voice or status or fame who deserve our support because they are unjustly imprisoned and tortured. However, Julian Assange is here in London fighting for his freedom and at the mercy of our flawed justice system. We should do everything in our power to have him released.
Julian Assange did what every journalist and news outlet ought to do: tell the truth and protect whistleblowers. He acted on behalf of anyone who believes citizens have a right to know what their government is doing with the money they pay in taxes, information which should be in the public domain.
The court ruling on January 4th this year prevented his extradition to the United States, although Biden has not halted the proceedings started by Trump. Assange was tried without a jury in a magistrate’s court. The Westminster chief magistrate overseeing the case has financial links to the British military establishment and this raises concerns about conflicts of interest. Assange’s lawyers destroyed the Trump administration’s main legal arguments for extradition.
Nevertheless, the judge spent 42 minutes upholding them and her final judgement came only in the last 3 minutes. She decided that Assange’s mental state was so concerning that he might kill himself if incarcerated in an American prison. Ironically, this should have been a reason for granting bail. While welcome, the judge’s ruling has not invalidated the American case against Assange, and the US is appealing. Even when a key witness in the case against Assange admitted to fabricating important accusations in June, nothing changed.
One extremely worrying issue is that his extradition could be allowed at an appeal without reviewing the serious legal concerns in the case, if a UK court is assured of Assange’s humane treatment in the US. Furthermore, the ruling does nothing to defend journalism or protect free speech and there are extremely serious implications for press freedom if he is extradited.
Julian Assange has been confined in Belmarsh since April 2019 when he was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy by our police. All charges relating to a rape allegation in Sweden were dropped in 2019 and are totally irrelevant to his current situation.
He is wanted in the United States to face an 18 count indictment mainly under the Espionage Act. He is alleged to have plotted to hack computers and conspired to obtain and disclose national defence information.The US prosecutors maintain he risked the lives of US informants and he could face a jail sentence of 175 years.
In 2010 and 2011 Wikileaks publications included numerous leaked documents concerning the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Previous publications covered Guantanamo, messages sent on 9/11, then the State Department cables, ‘Cablegate’, and in 2016 Democratic National Committee emails.
The best known leak is the notorious video of the shocking and brutal firing from an Apache helicopter on civilians in Baghdad with a recording of soldiers laughing and joking about the victims, who included two Reuters journalists. The firing continued and was subsequently aimed at a vehicle that had arrived to offer assistance.
In addition to the US charges and the prospect of a lifetime spent in an American prison, there are serious concerns about Assange’s incarceration in Belmarsh. He is being subjected to cruel, inhuman treatment in a country which purports to pride itself on its justice system. He is at risk from COVID-19, especially as he suffers from a chronic lung condition, he has dental and shoulder problems and his mental health has been severely affected by his ordeal.
Last year 117 doctors and psychologists published a letter in ‘The Lancet’ calling for an end to the ‘psychological torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange’. His cell is bitterly cold and in the winter he uses clothes and books to try to stem the flow of cold air. He has been denied visitors for the most part and has spent much of his time in isolation, sometimes 22 hours a day in solitary confinement.
Whatever the offence, the conditions in Belmarsh are unsuitable for any human being and certainly make a mockery of the alleged aim of the prison service to rehabilitate offenders. Last year 20% of the inmates were held for murder, almost two thirds for violent offences, 20 for sex crimes against children, 37 for serious sex crimes, 16 relating to terrorist offences. In February 2020 a man was beaten to death by two other prisoners. Belmarsh is a Category A maximum security prison and its choice for a remand prisoner is extremely unusual. It is for ‘prisoners who, if they were to escape, pose the most threat to the public, the police or national security’. Belmarsh has been called ‘Britain’s Guantanamo’.
Max Blumenthal has called this case ‘the most important press freedom case in the world’. For reasons of humanity and for the continued right of the press to speak freely, it is vital that we support the campaign to release Julian Assange.
Numerous people have had the courage to speak out in support of Julian Assange, although until recently almost all articles in the mainstream press have been extremely unfavourable. A search for Julian Assange on YouTube and in several other news outlets such as Novara Media, Double Down News and the Canary will reveal a considerable amount of information.
A particularly stirring webinar was one of Miko Peled’s when he was joined by Roger Waters, John Pilger and Ray McGovern; https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yWvdhrZSm8c.
On the trial there is Fidel Narváez: https://thegrayzone.com/2020/10/12/julian-assange-trial-freedom-speech/
Others who have championed Julian Assange include Craig Murray, https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/ and Jonathan Cook https://www.jonathan-cook.net/.
Searches on Twitter reveal more information and one of Assange’s staunch supporters is Dr Deepa Govindarajan Driver @deepa_driver