Onstage at demonstration against the extradition of Julian Assange, February 2020. Photo: Sweta Tapan Choudhury Onstage at demonstration against the extradition of Julian Assange, February 2020. Photo: Sweta Tapan Choudhury

The British State’s sinister maneouvres around the extradition of Julian Assange are a flagrant injustice and are being rightly challenged, reports Alistair Cartwright

“One decision – No extradition!” was the chant this Saturday as 3000 people marched through central London to oppose the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison for exposing war crimes and other state secrets. The charge brought against him is espionage.

We should be clear that this has nothing to do with the allegations in Sweden of sexual misconduct and potential rape, all investigations into which have been dropped. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has defined Wikileaks as a ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’. For those on the demonstration, the political effects that will ripple out from this case – if Pompeo gets his way – are clear.

Nelly, an Ecuadorian woman and Londoner of 18 years, spoke of her worries that the ability of individuals and organisations to publish the truth was being criminalised. ‘Journalism is now a dangerous profession’, she said. What hope was there for her daughter who wanted to study to become a reporter? Nelly was disgusted by president Moreno’s decision to reverse the asylum given to Assange by his predecessor Rafael Correa. She went on her very first march last year.  

For many, this was their first time protesting on the streets. Richard, a former business analyst in the City, said he wasn’t usually one to come on demonstrations, but the attempt to extradite Assange represented in his view ‘a tipping point’.

‘It challenges us on a whole heap of issues. It’s an attack on all our freedoms, on our core democracy’

Margaret, a retired working-class woman from Romford voiced a similar sentiment. ‘You can’t tell the truth any more’. Margaret and her husband Bob had been on demonstrations before but this issue had particularly angered them. ‘It’s absolutely disgusting the way they’ve treated him’.

Saturday’s demonstration was the biggest yet and the diverse crowd extended way beyond usual left circles.

Yet there are signs that opposition to the extradition is growing. A group of 117 doctors have condemned what they call the ‘torture’ of Assange and the ‘denial of his fundamental right to appropriate health care’. The doctors have questioned Assange’s physical and mental fitness to face trial. In France, two former presidents of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), have written in Le Monde that both Assange and Chelsea Manning are victims of a US policy of ‘vengeance’. While more than 1200 international journalists and media workers have called Assange’s imprisonment ‘a gross miscarriage of justice’.

On the demonstration, NUJ executive member Tim Dawson brought support from UK journalists. Dawson warned of the urgency of Assange’s case in a situation where government ministers feel free to bypass scrutiny by mainstream political TV programmes, while talking of a new, enhanced Official Secrets Act. Dawson spoke alongside rapper Lowkey, economist Yanis Varoufakis, Vivienne Westwood, Roger Waters and others.

Doctors, journalists, and artists are coming together against the extradition. Their voices are beginning to break through to the politicians. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnel as well as two Australian MPs from opposite ends of the political spectrum have visited Assange in prison, calling on Boris Johnson to block the extradition. Johnson himself has admitted that the UK’s extradition treaty with the US is ‘unbalanced’ and that there may be room for reconsidering the nature of the treaty.

But if this movement is to succeed it will need the impetus of the Left together with the weight of all those who oppose the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere. As Lindsey German from the Stop the War Coalition said in her speech on Saturday:

‘We owe Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning a huge debt as the antiwar movement… the killing of Iraqis, the killing of Afghans, the destruction of whole towns and villages, the bombing that is still going on – this is the kind of thing that they have exposed… Everybody who opposed the war in Iraq, everybody who opposed the war in Afghanistan, everyone who opposes their continued wars in Yemen and across the Middle East, and the way the Israelis are treating the Palestinians… has to be in favour of supporting Julian Assange.’

Join the protest TOMORROW outside Belmarsh prison as part of the International Day of Action for Assange.

Journalists and others wishing to organise a visit to Belmarsh to raise awareness about Assange’s case can contact the official UK campaign: [email protected]

Alistair Cartwright

Alistair Cartwright is an activist with the Stop the War Coalition and a member of Counterfire.