As Julian Assange spends another birthday behind bars, relentless campaigning and new revelations from a major witness are undermining the case against him, reports Terina Hine.
On Saturday it will be Julian Assange’s 50th birthday. For over a decade he has spent every birthday in captivity, and his fiftieth will be no different. He will be spending the day behind the bars of Belmarsh maximum security prison for the third year running.
He is there because he dared to reveal the truth - the truth about US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, about the abuse of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and for releasing US diplomatic cables which provided evidence of US torture and rendition. There is no doubt that he is a political prisoner.
To highlight the injustice of the case and Julian Assange’s continued incarceration, the Don’t Extradite Assange campaign organised Assange Week which culminates on Saturday with a birthday picnic in Parliament Square.
The week has included a number of events: a delegation of MPs visited HMP Belmarsh on Tuesday to request parliamentarian access to Julian, which has been denied all year; on Thursday a Thames riverboat protest ensured the Free Assange message was heard up and down the river as the Free Assange boat sailed passed the Houses of Parliament, MI6 and the US embassy; and on Saturday there will be a celebratory picnic at Parliament Square, conveying the message Assange is a political prisoner and must be set free.
As the week began the Icelandic press reported a dramatic development in the case: that a major witness for the United States’ government admitted to fabricating key accusations. The Icelandic news outlet Stundin reported the witness had been promised immunity from prosecution by the US Department of Justice and FBI for helping build the case against Julian. He has now admitted the story he told was based on lies.
On hearing this latest twist in the case Edward Snowdon, the famous NSA whistleblower, tweeted, “This is the end of the case against Assange.”
Although this latest development undermines the evidence on which the US’s case is based, you would be forgiven for not having heard about it before now - the silence from the British media has been deafening.
The lack of coverage of Assange’s case in the British media is astonishing. It was at the request of The Guardian, who profited handsomely from WikiLeaks, that he came to the UK in the first place. Given the implications for press freedom if the US’ appeal is successful, this lack of coverage is even more shocking.
So Julian Assange remains banged-up in Belmarsh. Despite the UK court ruling against his extradition six months ago he is set to spend another birthday, and many more days, weeks and months in a prison designed for the most serious violent offenders.
While he waits to hear whether the UK will grant the US the right to appeal, while he waits for the appeal date to be set, Assange has been denied bail and is being increasingly silenced. He is unable to make public statements, is hidden away from sight and is even refused access to official visits by UK parliamentarians.
Since December MPs have been trying to speak to Julian to be briefed about his case. Their request is for a virtual meeting, respecting the prison’s Covid concerns, has been thwarted at every turn.
So in this birthday week Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and Richard Burgon joined Julian’s partner and youngest son delivered a letter, signed by a group of 20 cross-party MPs, directly to the prison governor demanding access be granted. Handing over the letter to the Deputy Governor they committed to continue their campaign until they are granted the access that is their right.
It is clear that Julian Assange should be a free man, and as the US case against him collapses, as the evidence of CIA, FBI and US Department of Justice entrapment grows, the case is looking flimsier than ever.
Constant public campaigning helped to produce the verdict against the extradition in January and we must continue to pile on the pressure for his release - the UK High Court must deny the appeal, and the US and President Biden must drop all charges. Join the picnic on Saturday and show your support.
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