On Sunday 19 June 2016 around 60 people gathered at the embassy of Ecuador, London, in a show of solidarity with WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange; the date marking the 4th anniversary of his entry into the protective care of the embassy. The coming together was also an opportunity to thank Ecuador for its on-going protection of the publisher – asylum offered in recognition of the comprehensive US grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks and other threats – and to protest at Sweden’s continuing obfuscation and delay in prosecuting their allegations against Assange, denying him the full freedom of movement entitled under his asylum protection.
Well attended, our vigil brought people from all walks of life, representatives of organisations like Queer Strike and the Payday Network, supporters of WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning and Whistleblowers.
Eileen Chubb from Compassion in Care and The Whistler reads out a statement of support for Julian Assange:
Additionally the 4-year anniversary was marked by an impressive global series of events under the title ‘First They Came for Assange’, with numerous high-profile artists, performers, writers and thinkers participating (see link below). In the midst of our vigil, here came out of the Embassy unexpected gifts of sweets to share and T-Shirts to wear to everyone’s delight!
On the street in Knightsbridge familiar and new faces merged in a wonderfully sociable ensemble. What continues to mark these gatherings is their distinctly international feel: you meet and speak with people from all over the globe who comprehend the significance of Assange’s work and the nature of politically-constructed campaigns against those who speak truth to power. This includes international press and journalists outside of the privileged UK mainstream bubble, more experienced and better understanding the backdrop that frames Assange’s predicament.
Sunday’s show of support included whistleblowers, activists, community rights groups and concerned citizens who have become aware of the exceptional nature of both the Swedish prosecution and the UK’s relationship with it. The recognition of wilfully sub-standard process in Sweden and the wider absence of any significant governmental pressure to address it, from within Sweden or abroad, rings alarm bells for many who have experience of the wrath of state power.
Yet whilst such serious issues are discussed and debated on the street, there remains also a remarkably upbeat sociability and comradeship. As usual, long-running supporters and friends from Australia provide a cheering backdrop of songs of resistance.
Ciaron O’Reilly spoke in solidarity with Julian Assange:
Infectious vocal solidarity is ever-present from London’s Ecuadorian community and the gently mischievous joking between acquaintances brought together over half a decade or more – far too long in the circumstances – raises the spirits. Sustenance by way of snacks and T-shirts from WikiLeaks added to what felt like a community occasion: as these events increasingly do. This helps. For those that by speaking up for Assange face hostility and abuse on the street and via professional trolls online, the strength and support of our community, the fact that it continues to evolve and stand strong means a lot.
Yet our hardships of course pale when we consider what Julian Assange and other whistleblowers are going through. Sweden has had nearly 6 years to muster a charge against Assange and yet has failed to do so. During this time apparently faked evidence has been used against him without censure and a series of coordinated publicity stunts by the chief prosecutor have cobbled together for public consumption a pretence of Swedish action. After 4 years in the confines of the embassy one can only imagine the detriment to Julian’s physical and emotional well-being and the impact on his family. This is the injustice, recognised by the UN’s WGAD panel, which enrages so many. The ignorance of Sweden’s and the UK’s response to the WGAD ruling shouts inhuman, tyrannical arrogance.
Where might a little succour be found? Well, in part, from an unlikely source. A few weeks ago, Assange’s family, concerned for his well-being, procured a kitten to keep him company. A caring and very sensible idea considering the protracted isolation, confinement and stress under which Julian exists. Though, perhaps bizarrely, @EmbassyCat is now something of a social media starlet – he is cute as hell, it has to be said – the seriousness underlying his necessity and presence at 3b, Hans Crescent should not be overlooked. Without being over earnest, one does hope that the new companion will be good fur Julian’s spirits. On Sunday, EC’s scampering antics were certainly good for ours; via several window appearances, seemingly interested and approving of the good-natured brouhaha outside.
So, as ordinary folks in London and more illustrious names across the world stand together on this significant anniversary, we hope Julian is healthy and together. We think also of other truth-tellers who have lost their liberty, or are fighting for it. To Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Sarah Harrison and others all currently paying a terrible cost for a service to humanity that should be acclaimed and valourised. How upside-down things are.
We take comfort from our community that emboldens us all. Ordinary people doing what they can, how they can: challenging media falsehoods and misconceptions, designing, writing, donating, simply being there and being seen. Many small things add up and make a difference. We take heart from the on-going legal challenges and solidarity that keeps working for Assange’s freedom, mindful of global political shifts ahead; eras come and go. Things do change.
Pressure must continue to expose Sweden’s sham allegations and UK’s complicity that deny a Person of Interest his liberty.
Ciaron O’Reilly explains the importance of grassroots solidarity:
Massive thanks and respect must go to the courageous stance of Ecuador, whose evaluation of the full facts of Assange’s plight means that he remains protected. For this, and for the continuing work of WikiLeaks, so many people across the world are truly grateful. Gracias Ecuador.
Thank you all for coming to the vigil, Thank you for standing in solidarity and defence of Julian Assange!
**There will be a special vigil at the embassy on Julian’s birthday, Sunday 3 July. drop by for solidarity, celebration, cake (and possibly Embassy Cat). Further details to follow.
*For details of ‘First They Came for Assange’ events: https://freeassangenow.org/