3,000 March Demanding Freedom For Assange!

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The lead banner on Saturday’s march to free WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as it set off from the BBC’s headquarters in Portland Place

OVER 3,000 people marched through London from the BBC in Portland Place to the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand to fight for the release of Julian Assange on Saturday afternoon.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, 27th and 28th October, the High Court is hearing the US government’s appeal against the Old Bailey ruling of 6th January that on health grounds Assange cannot be extradited to America, where he faces 175 years in prison for publishing the truth.

The WikiLeaks founder published thousands of documents exposing the murderous crimes of US and UK imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He has been incarcerated in Belmarsh Prison in south east London for over two years since he was kidnapped out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London by British police in April 2019 after being holed up there for seven years.

The United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer has described Assange as a political prisoner and said that while in Belmarsh he has suffered psychological torture having endured prolonged periods of solitary confinement.

Organisers of the march called for a massive turnout on Wednesday and Thursday from 8am outside the High Court and there were numerous demands that the trade unions, and in particular the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), organise strike action to secure Julian Assange’s immediate release.

People spoke to News Line as the demonstration was assembling.

Helen Gibson, Unison member from Bristol, told News Line: ‘It’s a terrible injustice. It’s because it’s a wrecking ball to society as we know it if the truth comes out about the collusion of government, the arms trade, war lords. These things have been happening for a long time.

‘Absolutely everybody must act now to free Julian Assange. It’s so urgent, otherwise we all go to hell in a handcart.’

Joe Brack, from the Julian Assange Defence Campaign, told News Line: ‘We’re particularly concerned that journalists at the BBC who have covered Julian’s case are beyond misinformed.

‘They have repeated the National Security Agency narratives without attribution or providing convincing sources.

‘This has led to vilification and abuse of Julian Assange not only by the US Department of Justice but also the British Crown Prosecution Service and the “ministry of truth” here in Portland Place, the BBC.

‘The National Union of Journalists has made a stand for Julian Assange but needs to warn its members against abuse and misreporting. They need to take industrial action to hold the mainstream media to account.’

90-year-old Eric Levy, from Against Israeli Anti-Semitism, spoke to the crowd outside the BBC. He said: ‘Every day that goes by the doctors have said Julian’s life is in danger.

‘We must not allow them to say they are not giving an answer now. We say, don’t extradite, but also don’t postpone. The High Court deserves our contempt.

‘We want Julian free but we don’t accept it if they postpone the decision over and over again. That is tantamount to torture. Justice delayed is justice denied, it’s murder by omission.’

The march set off with the front banner stating: ‘Don’t Extradite Assange’, followed by the ‘Stop the War’ banner and placards including ‘Thordarson Lied – Key FBI Witness Lied’ and ‘No to Extradition. Facing 175 years for exposing war crimes.’

The Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists banner stated ‘Disband the Police! For a Workers Government and Socialism!’, with a lively delegation behind it chanting: ‘Free Julian Assange Now! Trade Unions must Act!’

Other slogans included: ‘Shame on BBC, your reporting is biased!’ ‘There’s only one decision, No extradition!’ ‘Free, Free – Julian Assange! – Jail the War Criminals!’ ‘US/UK Hands off Assange!’ and ‘Journalists, Journalists, Watch out what you say – the CIA and US state will take you away!’

News Line asked Julian Assange’s wife, Stella Moris, who was holding the front banner, if she wanted the trade unions to take action to secure his release and she replied: ‘Every action that can be taken should be taken. Julian’s life is at stake and the situation could not be more critical.’ She added that the NUJ has expressed support and ‘that is very important’.

Maria Mandic, from Woolwich, where Belmarsh prison is located, said: ‘I’m here to support Julian Assange, against a life sentence for him and for freedom of the press.

‘The US and UK are frightened of having their war crimes exposed. They are threatening democracy. The NUJ do support Julian but if all the trade unions banded together then that would be powerful.’

Paul Smith from Kent, a retired printer and NATSOPA member, told News Line: ‘I was proud to march against Murdoch at Wapping and I’m proud to march today. My father was on the first Aldermaston march.

‘It’s shocking what they are doing to Julian Assange, but it’s what you expect from this government. Labour’s no different. We had a better leader, Corbyn, but the Labour Party got rid of him.’

Kate Taylor from Bristol, said: ‘This is disgusting. He was doing his job, telling the truth and if journalists can’t tell the truth, who can?’

Mark Record from Justice for Julian Assange, said: ‘The real reason for Julian Assange’s treatment is because of the war crimes he has revealed.

‘We’ve actually become something of a tyrannical state. Julian Assange has undergone torture, says the UN rapporteur on torture.

‘Come down to the court on 27th & 28th. These are key dates, pivotal to what will happen. This hearing is pivotal. Be there!’

Riverboat worker and RMT member Carl Batchland said: ‘People should not be punished for telling the truth and especially exposing war crimes.

‘Trade unions must do more. It’s disgusting that he is held in Belmarsh, in solitary, a political prisoner. He must be freed now.’

John Rees from the Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign, said: ‘Don’t let them reverse the decision that Julian Assange should not be extradited.’

At the end of the march, the first speaker at the rally outside the High Court was the famous rapper, Lowkey, who said: ‘Julian Assange is in Belmarsh not for a crime that he has committed. He is there having a crime committed against him.

‘Julian Assange and WikiLeaks exposed the crimes and for that they are trying to kill him. WikiLeaks actually revealed that some of those held at Guantanamo Bay were just 13 & 14 years old, with no due process. Julian Assange is being punished for journalism. It must be stopped.’

Labour MP John McDonnell said: ‘As secretary of the NUJ Parliamentary group, I visited Julian in Belmarsh. They are oppressing him and he is standing up courageously. What keeps him strong is the knowledge of people like you fighting for him.

‘This is about the right to speak the truth, and what a truth! By freeing Julian we are freeing freedom of expression.’

Raghad Altikriti, President of the Muslim Association of Britain, said: ‘This is a clear case of politically motivated injustice. It is state terrorism that has gone on too long.’

Labour MP Richard Burgon said: ‘Julian Assange exposed the crimes of rendition, the crimes of Guantanamo Bay. He is held in Belmarsh solely because of his work.

‘The world needs more Julian Assanges. As Julian himself once said: “If wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by truth.”

‘Julian’s treatment is designed to intimidate every single journalist, every whistleblower. Let’s defeat this draconian attack on freedom of speech.’

Tim Dawson, NUJ National Executive Committee member, said: ‘This will have terrible damage all round the world.

‘You have all read the story on Yahoo, revealing that the CIA spied on Assange and his lawyers, made plans to kidnap and rendition him and to assassinate him. 30 retired CIA agents spoke to Yahoo and spoke about what they thought profoundly wrong.

‘Stop this crazy prosecution of the man who told the truth, upon which we all depend. If you believe in freedom under the law, don’t extradite Assange.’

WikiLeaks editor Christian Christensen said: ‘We are at the end of the road and we will see justice in the end. For 10 years we’ve been fighting for it.

‘We live in a very precarious time. Journalism is going to be on trial here next Wednesday and Thursday. Please be here to support.’

Julian Assange’s wife, Stella Moris said: ‘I saw Julian this morning. He is not well but his spirits were high because he knows he has your support.

‘The CIA has developed plans and options to kill him. They didn’t want him just in prison. You are rightly dismayed at what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and this is exactly the same.

‘We have to have confidence in ourselves and our values. Your right to know is what is being criminalised. You are in Belmarsh as long as Julian is in Belmarsh.

‘We must win this. We will win this. Come on Wednesday and Thursday,’ she concluded to loud applause.

‘Free, Free Julian Assange!’ rang out as the rally came to an end.