On the eve of the US appeal against the decision to not extradite Julian Assange to the US, a public meeting was held on October 26, 2021 in St Pancras New Church in London.
The meeting is the latest in the series of Free The Truth meetings. These are held to raise the profile of developing threats to whistle-blowers, freedom of the press, and human rights in western democracies. Organised in their private capacity by Dr Deepa Driver of the University of Reading and Prof Ian Munro of Newcastle University, the event was hosted by the Committee to Defend Julian Assange, and was live-streamed by Consortium News, Action for Assange, Anonymous, the Workers Party, Resist, Barnet Momentum, Labour Left Alliance, and the Labour Campaign for Free Speech.
Dr Driver introduced the speakers after summarising the catalogue of extraordinary irregularities and injustices around the prosecution of Julian Assange.
First up was Emmy Butlin from the Committee to Defend Julian Assange. Emmy urged us, the public, to collaborate in every way we can to free Julian Assange by raising awareness and adding pressure on the authorities.
The speakers from the panel then spoke in turn.
Bjartmar Alexandersson. Alexandersson is an investigative journalist for Stundin in Iceland. He researched and published the recent revelations concerning the testimony of Sigi Thordarson, the US prosecution’s star witness against Assange on the hacking charge.
Alexandersson described Thordarson’s “credentials”. He is an infamous con-artist in Iceland. He describes himself as “Sigi the Hacker”, despite having no technical ability, to scare and entrap his victims – including 15 boys who he sexually abused. He was convicted in 9 of those cases, and one of the other 6 boys later committed suicide after his case didn’t go to court. Thordarson has been stealing from companies and individuals for years, including $50,000 from Wikileaks when he had a minor role there as a volunteer over a decade ago. He is in jail in Iceland under a revolving conviction for serial offenders, and is currently being investigated for a fraud of almost £1m.
Thordarson has been on a crime spree since 2019 when the FBI gave him protection from prosecution in return for co-operation in their case against Assange. However, the key revelation is that in 9 hours of interviews over several days, he told Alexandersson that the allegations in the indictment are “basically lies” (Alexandersson details this from 18:15 in the video above).
Alexandersson emphasised the significance of this: the charge of hacking has been used to transform Assange from a journalist to a hacker (presumably to avoid contravening the First Amendment), and the only evidence for that comes from a convicted fraudster and paedophile.
Dr Derek Summerfield: Dr Summerfield “is an honorary senior lecturer at London’s Institute of Psychiatry and a member of the Executive Committee of Transcultural Special Interest Group at the Royal College of Psychiatry. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Egyptian Psychiatric Association. He has published around 150 papers and has made other contributions in medical and social sciences literature” (Wikipedia). He is also a member of Doctors for Assange, and former chief psychiatrist at Freedom From Torture.
Dr Summerfield described Julian Assange as a western citizen who exposed lies about the war on terror, war crimes and government surveillance. He put Assange’s prosecution in the context of the remorseless erosion of civil liberties since the Blair era. The description by the Chief Inspector of HM Prisons (David Ramsbotham) of Close Supervision Units as “total isolation in punishment conditions”, is a fair description of what Assange has been through in Belmarsh high security jail for the past 30 months.
Chris Williamson: Williamson was Labour MP for Derby North.
Williamson described Assange as an inspiration, and spoke about the betrayal of Assange by politicians, the media and the judiciary bringing international shame on our democracy. Establishment criticism of human rights abuses by other countries is hypocritical in the face of the abuse of Julian Assange’s human rights.
The betrayal extends of course to HM’s official opposition. Keir Starmer was Director of Public Prosecutions when the Crown Prosecution Service conspired with the Swedish prosecutor, and Stella Creasey MP persuaded some 70 parliamentarians (56 of which were Labour) to sign a letter to the Home Secretary pushing for Assange’s extradition to Sweden. More generally, parliamentarians kept their heads down and failed to plead the case for Assange, and even Jeremy Corbyn didn’t object to extradition to Sweden.
The role of corporate journalists has, with very few exceptions, been similarly contemptible. Nils Melzer’s remarkable investigation and reports have received essentially zero media coverage. Williamson gave examples of media smears that were clearly malicious and, as John McEvoy pointed out, even in the face of revelations about CIA plots to kidnap or poison Assange there was broad media silence. The difference between the prominent coverage of a Russian plot to poison Alexei Navalny and the scant coverage of the US/UK plot against Assange is another example of the hypocrisy mentioned earlier.
Williamson finally pointed to the complicity of the judiciary, which has participated in unjustifiable extradition proceedings. The allegations in the indictment concern things that journalists do all the time; if construed as espionage they are political, and the treaty explicitly bars extradition for political offences. The defence legal team have severely restricted access to the defendant, incarceration is arbitrarily extended even after the ruling against extradition, and reports and clear signs of ill-health aren’t addressed.
Lauri Love: Love is an information scientist who faced extradition to the US. Extradition was eventually denied in 2018 after a long legal battle.
Love began by describing the early hopes and ambitions that internet pioneers had for a better world facilitated by freedom of speech. He was inspired by the free exchange of information without restrictions and control by intermediary powers, as envisioned by the early internet freedom pioneers.
Love was charged with ‘allegedly “breaching thousands of computer systems in the United States and elsewhere – including the computer networks of federal agencies – to steal massive quantities of confidential data”’ (Wikipedia). The legal process took 5 years during which – unlike Assange – he was not in captivity and he did have access to his lawyers, to the press, and to the internet. He described the legal ordeal where the apparatus of a proper legal system is on display, but is abused in cases of extradition to the US. This abuse is partly enabled by the extradition treaty which was re-negotiated after the initiation of the ‘war on terror’. Under the renegotiated treaty, there is no obligation on the US to establish even a prima facie case, thus requiring the UK court to trust that the defendant will receive a fair trial in the US.
Love also made the above point about political offences, and went on to discuss the cruel conditions of confinement in the US prison system, and how assurances to the contrary cannot be taken seriously. It is a subject he investigated during his own case. He explained that if there is reason to think that a prisoner might commit suicide, the causes aren’t addressed — the prisoner is instead put on “suicide watch”, which is a euphemism for a form of confinement where the prisoner is isolated and watched day and night until the prison authorities determine that there is no longer a likelihood of suicide. In practice, it is at that point that a large number of prisoners do take their life.
In the case of Gary McKinnon – another defendant who faced extradition for conscionable hacking – extradition was blocked by the Home Secretary (Theresa May) on human rights grounds. The discretion of the Home Secretary to make that deliberation was subsequently removed, and was not available in Love’s case. His case went to appeal, and Love credited the campaign launched by the Courage Foundation for the success of that appeal. Love also credited Julian Assange and Wikileaks for the creation of the Courage Foundation, which was set up in the wake of the Snowden case to defend the rights of whistle-blowers. The Court of Appeals eventually ruled that it would be “unjust and oppressive in light of our (human rights) obligations” to send Love to face such dehumanising and torturous conditions. The same applies in Julian Assange’s case.
Love also saluted Chris Williamson for standing up for the rights of the Palestinian people “before being drummed out of the Labour party” and said that, like Assange, Williamson knows what it’s like to be the victim of media acting in bad faith.
Andrew Feinstein: Feinstein is a former ANC MP in the Mandela administration, and a prominent campaigner against the global arms trade and the corruption that surrounds it.
Assange’s case is the injustice that brings us here. He revealed proof, in the words of the perpetrators themselves, that militarism and arms trading were breaches of our own laws. The arms trade accounts for 40% of all the corruption in global trade, and it facilitates the bombing of Yemeni civilians by Saudi, Emirati and mercenary pilots using US and UK planes and bombs, financed by our taxes and in our name. Material and political beneficiaries aren’t always found as directly as in the example of Theresa May – who authorised bombings in Syria – and her husband – whose company was invested in arms companies that profited massively. The trade is protected by the veil of national security – the same veil that people like Love and Assange have tried to pull aside so that citizens can see what leaders are doing in our name and with our money.
Power and its compliant media will never give up anything. A citizens struggle is the only way, so let us commit to the struggle that will finally set Julian free. There is hope, and we can take inspiration from the ultimately successful struggle against apartheid, which had seemed like an impossible dream.
With special thanks from JADC to videographer Carlos Sotto for the video record, to St Pancras New Church for the venue, and to JADC’s contributors and donors for their generosity.