Assange: Why this baffling media silence?
05 December, 2019 — By John Gulliver
Julian Assange. Photo: David G Silvers
THE man sitting next to me in a pew in St Pancras Church, Euston, on Thursday evening looked slightly nervous. I asked him how he knew of the public meeting that had brought us together – called to discuss the fate of the imprisoned Julian Assange who some regard him, perhaps melodramatically, as a “political prisoner”.
The man said he had seen it on Twitter that afternoon and “dashed” along. “You have to move fast if you see something of interest on Twitter,” he explained. He had seen a notice of the meeting in the Twitter account of Craig Murray, a former diplomat bitterly critical of the UK’s foreign service. “He’s got 60,000 followers – which means you have to move fast.”
At that point only a few pews were occupied in the vast beautiful church. Perhaps few will turn up, I thought. It was five o’clock, and the meeting was due to start in half-an-hour or so. Then suddenly the church began to fill up – and fill up with the sort of person you normally don’t see at political gatherings – a more the general type, or if my companion is typical of the evening’s audience, a reflection of what can be called a “Twitter” crowd.
Within a short time more than 400 people filled the church, all – judging by their loud applause punctuating speeches – had been stirred by what they regard as the “criminal” treatment of a journalist and publisher, an Australian remanded in the harsh conditions of Belmarsh jail in south London on the grounds that he is a “flight” risk. He awaits a hearing in February for extradition to the US where he faces decades of imprisonment if found guilty.
I am not a conspiracist. I find more plausibility in cock-ups in history or the collision of unforeseen events. But I am baffled at the silence in the media and of the commentariat of the awful treatment of Julian Assange. He is in jail for skipping bail after seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy. He had been given 12 months in jail for an offence that normally attracts a much shorter sentence.
Two speakers, documentary film maker John Pilger and rapper Lowkey, pointed out that though no one can be extradited from these shores to the US on “political” grounds.
The charge facing Assange is drawn from the American “Espionage Act” of 1917 enacted to jail conscientious objectors of the First World War.
Daily newspapers – such as the Guardian, New York Times and the Sydney Morning Herald – had published the leaked documents that had landed Assange in jail, making all these publications “co-conspirators”. Didn’t this make their silence over the Assange case all the more outrageous?
Pilger described a visit he had made that day to see Assange in Belmarsh where visitors, after being fingerprinted, were under the vigilant tight control of guards who couldn’t stop a loud row erupting between a woman visitor and a prisoner.
It ended with 20 burly guards, according to Pilger, who pounced on the couple and took them away. Pilger pointed out that in a few days a general election will be held in the UK yet politicians have drawn a veil over the Assange case. Not a word about the case has been uttered, he emphasised. Silence at hustings. Not a word on talk shows.
According to Pilger, Assange has lost up to 15 kilos in weight, his health is shattered, he is virtually in solitary confinement. Another speaker, Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, says, in effect, Assange is being tortured.
In a passionate speech Lowkey reminded us how the great philosopher Bertrand Russell had gone to prison in protest against the severe punishment meted out to conscientious objectors to the First World War. “Where are today’s Bertrand Russells?” he cried. I thought of the mild philosopher who believed in free speech so much he was willing to go to jail for it – and then I wondered about today’s public intellectuals.
• A public meeting about Julian Assange will be held tomorrow evening (Friday) at Marchmont Community Centre, King’s Cross, at 6.30pm.