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Brutish Britain in International Law Courts

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Nearly 1,000 noteworthy figures recently gathered in London to express support for Julian Assange weeks before the imprisoned journalist is to face two crucial court hearings ahead of a final extradition request ruling later this year.

Key speakers at the rally included UK shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Julian Assange defence team member and barrister Jennifer Robinson, Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, UN special envoy on torture Nils Melzer, and UK shadow justice minister Richard Burgon. Groups supporting the rally included the Stop the War Coalition, Socialist Equality Party, Campaign to Defend Julian Assange, Julian Assange Defence Campaign, among others.

Members of the panel spoke out against the whistle-blower’s imprisonment at the notorious Belmarsh Prison, where the writer could receive up to 175 years in a US federal prison following an extradition request from Washington. The following are edited highlights from speeches delivered at the rally.

(Left to right) UK shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer and Wikileaks editor-in-chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF WIKILEAKS: ‘This could set dangerous precedents for journalists: We’re dealing with political corruption and persecution. This has nothing to do with justice. I remember shortly after he was arrested, we asked him what to relay to the journalists outside. He replied: ‘Tell them, it’s not about me, it’s about them!’

It’s about the future of journalism. It’s the gravest attack on journalism in my lifetime and a serious attack on journalism in latter times. If this extradition goes ahead, we will enter into a new Dark Age. We have to fight and work together, everywhere.

JENNIFER ROBINSON BARRISTER: ‘I think it’s important to remember what these publications were and their significance. In them were revelations on collateral murder, evidence of war crimes, the killing of journalists in a conflict in which they posed no risks.

There were the Afghan and Iraq war logs, evidence of torture, and mistreatment of political detainees. The killing of civilians far beyond what the US government was reporting on its own. The United States ordered spying on UN diplomats.

Corruption, torture, human rights abuses the world over. These are the publications for which he sits in prison. This is the very same material for which WikiLeaks and its media partners have been recognised the world over with journalism awards.

Barrister Jennifer Robinson discusses implications of Wikileaks revelations at rally in London

NILS MELZER UN SPECIAL ENVOY ON TORTURE‘Julian Assange has taken the flashlight in that dark room and pointed it at the elephant of war crimes, of misconduct, of serious violations of human rights. But despite his spotlight, the elephant, as a deer in the headlights, was frozen.

But then the elephant snatched the spotlight, turned it over, and pointed it at Julian Assange. The room became dark, and the only thing we could see was Julian in the corner with the spotlight on him.

And now everyone discussed his character, his private habits, does he wear shorts or long pants during his video conferences, was he skateboarding at the embassy, what was he feeding his cat, absolutely trivial things compared to the revelations he made. Who has the spotlight? It’s certainly the governments and the media. The media are supposed to serve and inform us to empower us, not just to entertain us.

RICHARD BURGON SHADOW JUSTICE MINISTER UK LABOUR PARTY: ‘Just imagine how poorer our understanding of the barbarity of the Vietnam War would have been had those who exposed US atrocities had been subjected to prosecution for doing so. Are we really going to hand over someone to spend 175 years in prison for exposing killings and abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the killing of journalists?

It’s wrong that the Conservative government signed the extradition warrant to the United States. It not only appears as yet another example of kowtowing to US foreign policy, but it seems to me to be a complete failure to respect the basic principles of journalistic freedoms. This issue goes way beyond the case of Wikileaks. It’s a clear attack on all of those who wish to expose abuses of state power, and an attack on journalists who report on them.

JOHN MCDONNELL SHADOW CHANCELLOR FOR THE LABOUR PARTY: I’m a member of parliament, and the role of an MP is to stand up for democracy and democratic rights of individuals, as well as protect the rights of those democracies from threats, wherever those threats come.

When this case came along and WikiLeaks happened, it seemed like a classic case of whistleblowing to expose wrongdoing, which was brutal, illegal, grotesque and something which many of us suspected was happening, but just couldn’t get the proof of that brutality, the torture and murders from that point on.

So, it’s a huge breakthrough, and the State in its usual role try to close down access to individuals like us and civil society towards that truth, and that’s what this is about. It’s the principle and the protection of democracy, but also throw light on the iniquity perpetrated in our name.’

JOHN REES, NATIONAL OFFICER FOR STOP THE WAR COALITION: ‘The one thing that has improved Julian Assange’s conditions in Belmarsh, which got him out of solitary confinement, was campaigning.

There was campaigning from ordinary activists and the legal team, but most impressively, it was three petitions by Belmarsh prisoners themselves demanding that his circumstances be changed because they were unjust and unfair. If they can do it, in the most difficult circumstances imaginable, you and I with much greater freedom can do it as well.

This legal process is corrupt. Assange will never be in front of a jury in this country. He will only be tried by a judge, and when he gets to the United States, he will only be in front of a jury who are to be selected locally in Alexandria, Virginia, where 80 percent of jurors are employees of the Pentagon, the National Security Agency or the Central Intelligence Agency. He will go to no jury to bent jury, and you will never hear that voice again.’ Like this story? Share it with a friend.

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