Above photo: Free Assange protesters marching outside the British Embassy in Washington D.C. on Jan 3. 2021.
The D.C. protest drew press freedom supporters from around the country in preparation for the extradition verdict on January 4th.
Press freedom activists and independent journalists endured the cold and rain outside the British Embassy in Washington D.C. on Sunday Jan. 3. With less than 24 hours until a potential blow to the future of press freedom, the crowd of free speech advocates was there to make as much noise as possible.
On Monday, Jan. 4, U.K. judge Vanessa Baraitser will announce if the U.K. government will extradite Australian journalist and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison for charges under the Espionage Act. Leading press freedom and human rights groups have acknowledged that if Baraister rules in favor of extradition, it will set a dangerous precedent that journalists can be charged by the United States government for publishing truthful information.
Protesters from as far as California, Florida, and Ohio gathered to attend the D.C. event which was organized by Action 4 Assange. Andrew Zigmund, one of the co-founders of Action 4 Assange and host of the group’s YouTube vigil series was happy about the turnout.
“Everybody gets it,” Zigmund said. “This isn’t a left issue. It’s not a right issue. It’s not a radical issue. It’s the basic principle that we’ve had for the last two hundred and seventy-some years that you can expose corruption. You can release accurate information about the world that you live in, in the public interest, and there’s no way for you to get in trouble for it.”
This was the third time Action 4 Assange has organized protests in D.C. to denounce the oppression of Assange. They also scheduled a protest outside the Department of Justice on Jan. 4, the day of the hearing where Baraister will announce her verdict.
Though the Assange trial has received little attention from mainstream news outlets, there are many independent journalists who have followed the case. Some of these journalists could be found at the event either streaming, or speaking to the crowd.
Lee Camp, host and writer of Redacted Tonight and regular Assange supporter was one of the speakers at the event. He said the turnout reflected an increase in momentum of the Free Assange movement
“The movement has definitely grown immensely,” Camp said. “You’ve seen the movement really grow online, despite all the suppression. When people post about Assange, post about how he needs to be freed, much of it goes viral. Much of it gets a lot of shares. People care about this issue.”
— Newsdive (@newsdiveradio) January 3, 2021
Camp noted he had also protested in D.C. two years ago when Assange was arrested from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had been staying in asylum for seven years.
Though Assange supporters have managed to sustain and even grow the movement to free him, that freedom still relies heavily on a pardon from the president of the United States. Even with prominent conservatives such as Tucker Carlson and Sarah Palin boosting the calls for a pardon, President Trump has yet to act on the demands. President-elect Biden is also unlikely to pardon Assange without much pressure. In the past, Biden has referred to Assange as “a hi-tech terrorist.”
Along with the Espionage Act charges, Assange has faced a series of smear campaigns from some of the most powerful figures in government. This is because WikiLeaks has been the source of a series of groundbreaking publications that expose the inner-workers of U.S. imperialism around the world.
Grayzone journalist, Anya Parampil, attended the event and spoke on Assange’s impact that she’s encountered through her own reporting on U.S. imperialism.
“Everywhere I travel throughout the world to cover the crimes of empire, particularly in Latin America, the legacy of Julian Assange weighs heavily,” Parampil said. “People there really see him as a hero because he helped expose things that they knew were happening, about the United States interfering in their countries. But it gave them the hard evidence.”
No matter what Baraitser determines on Jan. 4, the trial will likely be extended through an appeals process which can keep Assange isolated in maximum security Belmarsh prison for several years. There, he is at risk of contracting Covid-19 or succumbing to his already weakened physical and mental state.
— Newsdive (@newsdiveradio) January 3, 2021
Grayzone founder Max Blumenthal also attended the protest and spoke on this appeals process and why actions demanding a pardon are important.
“[Assange] could just be in legal purgatory for many many years, but the question is whether they actually are willing to sacrifice whatever credibility they have left, these liberal democracies, in order to convict him,” Blumenthal said. “These rallies and these kind of actions really put them on notice.”
Though the Free Assange movement remains absent from mainstream coverage and political discussion, the D.C. protest was one of many actions demanding a pardon, with other groups holding rallies in New York City, San Francisco, Denver, and other major cities throughout the world.