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Visits of Justice: Stella Assange’s Plea to Australia

It certainly got the tongues wagging, the keyboards pressed, and the intellectually dead aroused – at least for a time. Given how many of those in the Australian press and media stable have been, for the most part, unconcerned, and in some cases celebratory, regarding the prosecution of Julian Assange, it was strikingly poignant to have his wife, Stella, present at the centre of Australia’s press epicentre: the National Press Club in Canberra.

For those familiar with the ongoing prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder by the United States via the extradition processes of the United Kingdom, a brutal carnivalesque endeavour that continues to blight that legal system, there is not much to be said. Stella had to get her point across to a pack of the uninitiated – most of them, anyway – and state the obvious fact that her husband is facing gloomy prospects across the pond for spilling the beans on the US National Security State. Once the doors open to such a prosecution on US soil, bets are off on the subject of publishing national security information in the public interest. For the first time in US legal history, a journalist, defamed and harassed, will be conveyed into the bowels of a carceral state so revolting it makes Belmarsh look like a modest retreat.

The method, however, lay in the personal touch, one that draws out Assange as the dedicated, loving, and intellectually stimulated everyman. There is talk about the “fledging rainbow lorikeet” that her husband reared when he was on Magnetic Island off the coast of Townsville in Queensland. Remembering the “chestnut coated mare which he would ride when he stayed in the Northern Rivers.” There was also surfing in Byron Bay in his teens, and beekeeping in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria.

Stella’s agenda is clear, direct, and powerful. There is no time for frills. She knows that the realm of ideas has little truck with the breakfasting, lunching and dining journalists who titter across Canberra and offer the rest of Australia information of an embarrassingly poor quality. It was important to keep matters simple.

The adopted technique, then, is uncomplicated: focus on the man in prison, in captivity, and suffering because of it. “I can tell you exactly what Julian is doing right now. It is 3 a.m. in London. Julian is lying in his cell, probably awake and struggling to fall asleep. It’s where he spends twenty-two hours a day, every day.”

She mentions how “Julian’s feet only ever feel the hard, dull, even cement on the prison floor.” Relief and respite cannot be found during the exercise routine. “When he goes to the yard for exercise, there is no grass, no sand. Just the bitumen pavement surrounded by cameras and layers of razor wire overhead.”

The cell Assange occupies is but a mere three by two metres, a situation scandalous in the absence of any conviction, and all the more so for that fact. The cold draft that comes in through the window is nullified, to some extent, by books, something poignant, given his intellectually curious state. In this sense, literature does not merely nourish the mind but literally offers a buttressing shield against the elements.

The walls of the compressed space are also covered in pictures of his and Stella’s children, and of them together. In the ensemble, science is never neglected. “A large colourful poster of a nebula taken by NASA’s James Webb Telescope” also finds its pride of place in the cell.

As for the visits, Stella remains direct and impressively unsentimental. “When the children and I go to Belmarsh, usually on the weekend, we leave our belongings in a locker. We check in with the prison authorities in the visitor’s centre building, my fingerprint is scanned, and we get a stamp on the back of our hands.” After that: the entrance, the “endless queues”. One of the children conflates the prison with the queue, a beautifully grim parable that could apply to any penal system on the planet that fuses the procession with captivity itself.

Having given her audience personal slices and offerings there are even more serious reflections. “There is now near universal recognition of the enormous implications that this case has for press freedom and the future of democracy.”

The herculean efforts by Stella and Assange’s father, John Shipton, have certainly gotten the attention of the Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. In an interview with the Australian broadcaster, the ABC, earlier this month, he claimed to be doing in private what he was saying in public: “that enough was enough.” Diplomatic channels were being used, but the PM lamented the lack of success thus far. “I know it’s frustrating, I share the frustration. I can’t do more than make it very clear what my position is.”

That measure of frustration should indicate the extent, and worth, of Australia’s influence and pull over their brute of an ally. Despite essentially gifting the country to Washington’s military industrial complex, gratitude towards Australian requests is not in ample supply on the Assange affair. In refusing to meet Assange’s wife (he does not believe in “grandstanding”), Albanese continues to claim that “[n]othing is served from the ongoing incarceration” of the publisher. He was also pleased that the position on Assange was now a bipartisan one – the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, had also joined the pro-release advocates.

For all this, the prime minister is also entertaining a doomed equation: that Assange’s release will probably be achieved only after the time he has already served is deemed sufficient relative to the time he would get were the allegations against him proved. Given that the 18 charges levelled against Belmarsh’s most prominent political prisoner would yield prison sentences anywhere up to 175 years, expectations must be dampened. For all that, Stella’s observation that her husband’s life was “in the hands of the Australian government” remains powerfully pertinent. If not now, when?

 

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8 comments

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  1. leefe

    We’re in lockstep with the US military industrial complex, but that isn’t enough leverage to get Assange released. It’s almost like the US doesn’t give a flying fuck about Australia except as a tarrget and supplier of cannon fodder.

  2. New England Cocky

    FREE JUKIAN ASSANGE IMMEDIATELY!!! IDENTIFYING WAR CRIMINALS IS NEVER A CRIME, RATHER IT IS THE DUTY OF ALL THINKING PERSONS, EVEN WHEN ONE OR MORE OF THE ALLEGED PERPETRATORS IS/ARE POTUS.

  3. GL

    I can almost see the future headlines: Julian Assange will be repatriated back to Australia. He will be buried in…

  4. Andrew Smith

    I struggle to sympathise with Assange’s endeavours when he appeared to go off piste and obsessed with an obsessive vendetta towards Hillary Clinton & Dems, without considering consequences and an off ramp; similar to a few other US citizens who have done similar.

    Further, Australian media seem to avoid much of the credible analysis and criticism offshore from centre and left media on Assange and Wikileaks, not for their mission, but getting politicised (see bottom Mother Jones); his actions gave significant advantage to the Trump GOP campaign, when he didn’t need to while giving other journalists more hurdles?

    Putting aside Assange, related issues are impacts on other journalists, whistleblowers, no comparison with the situation for similar in e.g. Turkey & Russia harassed, beaten, imprisoned or murdered; convenience or utility of Assange’s detention for those with other agendas i.e. supporting Trump, Putin, GOP Freedom Caucus & Ukraine invasion vs. Hilary/Dems &/or Biden/Dems, and Ukraine/EU.

    However, there is evidence going way back that Assange was thrown under a bus by those who led him on, in an effort to disadvantage Clinton’s then Presidential campaign, and now similar with Biden’s Democratic administration; surprised at how little previous Australian governments have done when they had leverage with their own political allies in power UK & US?

    This ignores how little right wing parties and/or governments e.g. LNP, GOP & Tories have done during past decade, while now sitting back criticising Dems, ALP and no doubt UK Labour? Further, many of Assange’s high profile supporters locally, also support some or all of the following: Putin, blaming Ukraine for invading itself, Trump, anti-ALP, Christian conservatism, anti-Vaxx/anti-Covid, anti-EU etc., very convenient issue to promote?

    There has been excellent offshore analysis over the past decade plus including Nick Cohen in UK and Mother Jones’ David Korn (17 Dec ’21):

    ‘Denounce Julian Assange. Don’t Extradite Him. The prosecution of the conniving WikiLeaks founder poses a threat to American journalism. …

    ….WikiLeaks behaved more as a political hit squad than a media organization. For example, when the Washington Post on October 7, 2016, published the Access Hollywood video showing Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy,” half an hour later WikiLeaks began releasing emails Russian hackers had swiped from John Podesta, the chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign…..Assange and WikiLeaks were full partners with Putin in a plot aimed at electing Trump president.

    And Assange tried to cover up Russia’s role in this perfidious operation.’

    Denounce Julian Assange. Don’t Extradite Him.

    Some in Australia are very sensitive to criticism of Assange – Wikileaks modus operandi that they were nudged into, and do not like to read such things about Assange, but he is neither a saint nor should he be the story itself.

  5. Terence Mills

    Andrew

    Your points noted but the fact remains that the person who actually stole the highly confidential information, Bradley now Chelsea Manning, was pardoned by outgoing President Obama.

    Manning, who sent more than 700,000 confidential documents, videos and diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, has since said that she would have published the data herself, if Julian Assange had not.

    It’s over ! You cannot shoot the messenger ! Assange should be released immediately.

  6. Andrew Smith

    Terence

    Deflecting, I’m speaking of the later DNC emails stolen by Russians (via Podesta) during 2016 Pres. campaign, not previous defence etc. documents of Wiki inc. Manning et al. when the project was on piste; to be honest simply confirmed what many suspected, but no game changer.

    Ignores a good example of Assange’s suboptimal choice in being manipulated into helping the Trump campaign vs. Hilary & Dems, then the fact that it was Trump who convicted Assange; obviously not very grateful for Assange’s & Wikileaks’ actions, why?

    ‘LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump offered to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange if he said that Russia had nothing to do with WikiLeaks’ publication of Democratic Party emails in 2016, a London court heard on Wednesday’ 19 Feb ’20 https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-assange-idUKKBN20D2A4

    Can also go back further to Nick Cohen’s analysis in The Guardian (18 Sep ’11) ‘The treachery of Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder, far from being a champion of freedom, is an active danger to the real seekers of truth’

    Tough analysis but Assange and many others, especially relating to US – Russia, merely present as ‘anti-imperialists of the left’ but end up assisting the right?

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/sep/18/julian-assange-wikileaks-nick-cohen

  7. Terence Mills

    Andrew

    But Assange is not being prosecuted or detained over the DNC emails of which you speak !

  8. Andrew Smith

    Terence. You avoid the point by muddying the water, it’s not just about legal issues and extradition* but the broader ethical and moral issues too, i.e. he was central in receiving DNC emails being a very naive boy; now we see desperation by the faux supporters of Assnage to avoid any links to DNC emails, Rich, Fox, Trump and Russians….

    *LNP and local media did nothing to support him, now very conveniently many on right erupting and blaming the newish ALP govt., Albanese, Wong et al, but ignoring that diplomacy and respecting other nations’ sovereign laws cannot be done in public, well.

    He became actively involved in politics and electioneering for Trump vs. Clinton, helping to blame a murder victim Seth Rich, throwing him under a bus to promote and become complicit in the Clinton (murder of Rich) conspiracy (masking Trump campaign & Russians), liaising with Stone and appearing on FoxNews?

    Can you explain Assange’s behaviour according to this, via NPT (& multiple reports in US & EU):

    ‘Seth Rich’s killing was exploited on Fox News and online. His parents are fed up….

    …Our interview represents the first public remarks the Riches have made since they reached a confidential settlement in fall 2020 with the Fox News Channel and its parent company, Fox Corp., over its role in peddling those false claims.

    ….After Seth’s death, figures friendly to former President Donald Trump portrayed him as a disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporter. They peddled false claims that he had secretly stolen thousands of emails and given them to WikiLeaks to try to stop Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency. They suggested Clinton and the Democrats had arranged his killing. And that the Riches themselves were in on some kind of cover-up.

    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fueled the suspicions, aided by such extremist blogs as Gateway Pundit.’

    https://www.npr.org/2022/06/15/1104511732/fox-news-seth-rich-murder

    I do not wish Assange to be left languishing in prison (like many courageous journalists, politicians, activists etc. are in Russia & Turkey), but some sense of perspective, he walked in eyes wide open, as a supposed ‘libertarian’ assisting grotty and misogynistic RW campaign vs. Hilary & Dems for Trump, Fox and GOP.

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