As Britain awakes at the need to defend Julian Assange an Exhibition was held in the Isle of Wight highlighting this issue. Read below the inspiring introductory speech by artist and activist Anna Fauzy-Ackroyd. Please visit this Facebook Page for more inspiring Art. And of course this Twitter Page that celebrates WikiLeaks inspired art. The event got a shout out on On The Wight which also published a letter by the artist. What an inspiring set of actions in defence of Julian Assange. Thank you Anna!
Welcome to the opening evening of our exhibition of Free Expression and to the introductory talk.
As most of you will have noticed the exhibition is dedicated to the defence and freedom of Julian Assange.
Julian Assange, an Australian, was founder, editor in chief and publisher of Wikileaks until he was cut off from communicating with the outside world in 2018.
What is Wikileaks?
In his words:
‘WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists (our electronic drop box).’
The information edited and published by Wikileaks is in the public interest and includes the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, The Guatanamo torture files, information on secret trade agreements and environmental crimes, banking and government corruption, cablegate, the DNC files and much more.
The information published by Wikileaks has a 100 percent accuracy rate which is unprecedented for a publishing outlet. In 10 years it has published 10 million documents.
Julian Assange does not steal the information by hacking computer systems!!!
The information is leaked by whistleblowers who often take enormous personal risks to expose this information
Julian Assange says,’It is not at Wikileaks that decides to reveal something. It is a Whistleblower or dissident who makes that decision. Our job is to make sure these individuals are protected, the public is informed and historical record is not denied.’
Julian Assange has expressed clearly and repeatedly his dedication to honouring these whistleblowers and that the goal is justice and the method is transparency.
In a recent ruling in the USA on 30th July, this year, Judge Koetl stated that it is constitutionally insignificant whether Wikileaks knew the published documents were acquired without permission, by hacking, or other means before they were attained by Wikileaks.
A person is entitled to publish stolen documents that the publisher requested from a source so long as the publisher did not participate in the theft.’
It is important to also mention that Julian Assange has won more Awards for his publishing than any other journalists and that he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize every year since 2012.
In 2010 he was awarded the Time Magazine Person of the Year (reader’s choice) as well as Le Monde man of the year. In 2011 he was awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation Medal and in 2019 the DANNY Global Vision Award for Journalism and Activism.
So how did I get involved and why do I feel so passionate about the fate of Julian Assange?
Wikileaks and Julian Assange first came to my awareness in the Easter of 2010. I was called over to a computer to watch the ‘Collatoral Murder’ video they had released and had gone viral. It showed a US helicopter crew attacking and killing unarmed Iraqi civilians including 2 reuters journalists.
As much as I knew about the horrors of the attack and invasion of Iraq and the suffering of the Iraqi people this video encapsulated the nature of the ongoing war crimes by the US military.
The following year I attended a stop the war rally in Trafalgar Square. Julian Assange and John Pilger were notable speakers and Julian’s words again made a powerful impression on me:
‘In democracies, war is the result of lies. And while one might think that that should lead us to a state of despair, it should lead us to an optimistic understanding because if wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by truth.’
I admired his courage in presenting to speak at this event as he was by now tagged and under curfew while fighting the courts against the European Arrest Warrant that he feared would lead to his onward extradition to the USA from Sweden.
It was not, as is often reported in the Mainstream press to evade questioning over rape allegations in Sweden, as Julian Assange has always been more than willing to cooperate with what has only ever been a preliminary inquiry. To this day there are no charges against him.
In June 2012 he entered the Ecuadorian embassy and applied for diplomatic/political asylum related to the very real fear of extradition to the USA with no chance of a fair trial; facing a secret grand jury in Virginia with the outcome of a life sentence in inhuman conditions.
I wrote a letter to him in the embassy. I remember that it contained a postcard of a Native American in full headdress. However, the writing quickly fizzled out. Despite being contained in two small room’s year in year out, at least, I felt, he was in the embassy of a supportive government.
I stopped reading news, was very busy, then unwell and sad to say Julian Assange’s plight dropped off my radar until a fateful day in April this year.
I was in the Coop doing my shopping and scanning the headlines of the newspapers as usual.
I saw the picture on the the front pages of the papers of Julian Assange being dragged out of the embassy on the 11th April, the day before. This sent a shock wave of apprehension right into my heart. I was filled with a feeling of dread, What would they do to him now????
I had to do something and remembered back to writing to the embassy.
I searched ‘letters to Julian’ and found a dedicated site and facebook page to a letter writing campaign. I got the Belmarsh address and instructions for writing but also had tapped into so much more. I began updating myself about the depths of the persecution and injustices against him from independent journalists and dedicated facebook pages.
The MSM outlets had been bent on a full scale smear campaign against him which had by now spanned almost 10 years. It is fascinating to see how deeply this misinformation when repeated over and over again has seeped into the general consciousness. This has been clear when I have raised the plight of Julian Assange in conversation with others.
He wasted taxpayers money having the embassy policed 24/7 (no comment on the amount of taxpayers money wasted on illegal wars!!) His celebrity friends can help him now, he’s a narcissist, he’s paranoid, he’s risked the lives of our troops, he got Trump into power, I don’t like him, he makes my blood boil, he’s a Russian agent, he’s a rapist, he’s a hacker etc etc.
I’ve been asked to take a closer look at the accusation that in releasing the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs into the public domain military and civilian lives were put at risk.
When Julian Assange became aware of this possible risk he asked The Guardian newspaper, who he was working together with at the time, to delay the publication of the logs so that redactions of all names could be made. When they did not agree to this or tohelp in the task he stayed up all night and redacted 10,000 names from the documents himself. This was witnessed by award winning Australian journalist Mark Davis who was with Julian at the time filming ‘Inside Wikileaks’.
In 2013 the Guardian reported that“The US counter-intelligence official who led the Pentagon’s review into the fallout from the WikiLeaks disclosures told the Bradley Manning sentencing hearing that no instances were ever found of any individual killed by enemy forces as a result of having been named in the releases.”
Of greatest significance, I feel, is that early analysis of the Iraq war logs, in 2010, by the independent NGO Iraq Body Count, suggested that they contained records of up to15,000 violent civilian deaths that had not been previously reported.
The Iraq Body Count was set up to record civilian deaths resulting from the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq in response to the American military statement: We don’t do body counts.
I could go through each one like this but it would take up too much time. However there is plenty relevant information, if you are interested, in folders in the exhibition.
Our own Conservative MP Bob Seely was particularly quick off the mark to smear Julian Assange. Being a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee he had clearly been tipped off about the day Julian was to be dragged forcibly from the embassy by Metropolitan police.
He made sure he was in parliament that day as well as having an article published in The Telegraph headed ‘Julian Assange useful idiot and left wing dupe will now have to answer for his actions.’
I put in a complaint to The Telegraph about blatant inaccuracies in the article but did not receive a reply with the 28 days promised and in fact never heard again.
Returning to my reading up, I found out that a new President, Lenin Moreno had been elected in Ecuador in May 2017. This president had fully aligned himself with the interests of the American Government.
As a result conditions for Julian in the embassy became increasing hostile. His internet connection was permanently cut off, visits came to an end and a more aggressive surveillance and security system was in operation.
This culminated, with the cooperation of Britain and the USA, to his forcible removal breaking International law on political asylum status and non refoulement; asylum being a status that can’t be revoked without due process of the law.
Julian was immediately under arrest and taken straight to court that morning. Judge Snow out of the blue, in front of the world press called ‘his behaviour that of a narcissist who could not get over his own interests’ and he was sent straight to Belmarsh, a high security prison and unheard of choice for the minor crime of jumping bail and bearing in mind that was to seek political asylum. Before the end of the day an Extradition request was submitted by the USA.
All the mockery regarding his fears of being extradited to the USA were laid to rest. Particularly, when shortly after, the charges against him were increased to 17 under the Espionage Act carrying a penalty of up to 170 years
On the 1st May he was sentenced to 50 weeks for jumping bail for a crime which often only gets a caution and a fine. This by Judge Dame Arthbunot, Lady of Edrom, whose husband runs a security firm with ex head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett. Despite this conflict of interests she has refused to recuse herself.
A huge milestone in exposing the persecution of Julian Assange came when Nils Melzer the UN Rapporteur on torture published the findings of his visit to Julian in Belmarsh on the 31st May.
I am going to quote from Nils Melzer as his courage in speaking out has been exemplary. This from a man who heads his twitter page with the statement ‘Any indifference towards someone else’s integrity and dignity equally threatens our own and, fundamentally, betrays humanity as a whole.’
“Mr Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma. The evidence is overwhelming and clear. Mr Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effect of which can only be described as psychological torture,”
“In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,”
Julian also told him that a few months before he was dragged from the embassy his shaving kit had been taken from him hence ensuring he looked the part of a fugitive when he was forcibly removed before the world press.
Not surprisingly Nils Melzer’s report got barely a mention in the main stream media.
Even before his statement Julian was taken to the medical wing of the prison. I was shocked to find out, even here, that he was still confined in a cell for up to 22 hours a day, with barely an opportunity to exercise apart from half an hour in an asphalt yard. The corridors are cleared when he is taken from his cell so he sees no one. Two, two hour social visits a month are allowed and the time for these frequently reduced due to obstructions. No access to a computer to prepare for his extradition trial and not allowed to phone his parents and mail has been withheld for weeks on end.
John Pilger tweeted on 7th August: Do not forget Julian Assange or you will lose him. I saw him in Belmarsh and his health has deteriorated. Treated worse than a murderer, he is isolated, medicated and denied the tools to fight the bogus charges of a US extradition. I fear for him. Do not forget him.
(In a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in New York on October 15, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer restated his assessment that WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign of persecution that amounts to “torture.”
In his letter to the Swedish government, Melzer wrote: “For almost nine years, the Swedish authorities have consistently maintained, revived and fuelled the ‘rape’-suspect narrative against Mr. Assange, despite the legal requirement of anonymity, despite the mandatory presumption of innocence, despite the objectively unrealistic prospect of a conviction, and despite contradictingevidence suggesting that, in reality, the complainants never intended to report a sexual offence…”)
But still courageous letters have been sent to supporters and published for encouragement:
Thanks, B for fighting for me. I am in a very dark place at the moment. Light up the night until victory.
And one received on the 16th August ‘Knowing you are there fighting for me keeps me alive in this profound isolation.’
And this one showing Julian’s sense of humour still alive:
Thanks, I am in the whale but you are at the surface and have grasped the line. Ps Belmarsh put all my mail somewhere they couldn’t find for the last 3 months.
This September, Julian was awarded the Gavin MacFayden Award and Eileen Chubb wrote the press release. Eileen is an extremely courageous and dedicated woman who blew the whistle on abuses against defenseless elderly people in care homes in the UK and now through her charities ‘Compassion in Care’ and ‘The Whistler’ works tirelessly to support others who speak out. She also advocates for breaking the four links in the chains of abuse which she describes as complacency, ignorance, denial and silence.
Talking of silence you probably did not hear that Roger Waters of Pink Floyd played Wish you were here outside the Home Office of Priti Pattel in London in defence of Julian.
Roger Waters said in his speech, ‘How do we put ourselves in the position of Julian Assange in Solitary Confinement? Or with that kid in Syria, or Palestine or Rohingya, being blown to bits by these people in this building here (pointing to the home office) It’s called empathy and it is the most valuable thing that any human being can possess in their lives because it brings joy.
I have certainly come across a lot of silence and censorship from many quarters in my campaign efforts on behalf of the defense and freedom of Julian Assange as you can see in the folders on display.
This made it even more uplifting when I received this beautiful response to a prayer request I wrote in to a Covent in London:
We do apologise! As we tidy up the prayer boards it was discovered that we had not sent you an email to assure you of our prayer for your intentions. We have been bringing Julian Assange and his situation in prayer before Our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament asking all the graces, blessings, healing and help he needs at this time as his extradition is being processed, and asking the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the help of the Holy Angels for his legal and other advisors.
So how did the idea arise to hold an exhibition dedicated to Julian Assange?
Our Monday art classes with artist and teacher Nicola Gibbs have become a time when we have shared our concerns about the injustices against Julian and ways in which we can speak out for him. Soon after Nicola and I found out that independently we had decided to dedicate our art work to him and Henriette also suggested we use art to raise awareness.
Ultimately, however, the idea was inspired by Julian himself. He has expressed that the artwork he receives in his mail lifts his spirits. Also, he has artist friends who have visited him in Belmarsh such as the fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood and Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei.
His own words were further encouragement: Even where words are silenced, creativity can transcend censorship.’
The art world has a way of coming through in an indirect manner, pulling on people’s emotions in way they weren’t expecting.
It is important to remember that as of 22nd September 2019 Julian is held in Belmarsh Prison without any convictions against him on remand awaiting his extradition trial in February 2020. This against an Australian citizen publishing information in Britain. This case is a watershed trial with press freedom and the accountability of governments, at stake, worldwide.
As I draw to a close there is another courageous truth teller that cannot be left out of this talk and that is Chelsea Manning, her life inextricably linked with Julian’s even though they have never met in person.
The Afghan and Iraq war logs revealed war crimes and atrocities she could not ignore in her army role as intelligence analyst and so came about the biggest leak of classified documents in history including the video that became collateral murder.
She was sentenced to 35 year for leaking these documents by the military courts. This sentence was later commuted, after she had served 7 years, by Barack Obama and she was freed on 17th May 2017.
However, she is currently back in prison having refused to cooperate with a secret grand jury process intended to coerce her into testifying against Julian Assange ahead of his extradition trial.
On top of that she is being find 1000 dollars a day for contempt of court.
The documentary film XY Chelsea will be showing at the Ryde Commodore on Wednesday 20th November. Do buy tickets in advance as that will help support the independently funded hire of the theatre.
There is so much more to say so please do enjoy the exhibition and the information available to read. I plan to be at the exhibition regularly over the next 2 weeks so pop by if you have questions about the art or the theme of its dedication.
There are also leaflets produced by the JADC for those who would like to take part in actions. I met some of the members at a meeting in London in August and what a lovely bunch of caring people from all walks of life.
And finally, if Courage were not courageous I would not be standing here today.
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A great article Anna! and a great idea to do the exhibition! Thanks very much for all your time and work. I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to the Isle of Wight to see it in person.