Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thousands Turn Out To Support Julian Assange And WikiLeaks

By Jerry Smith Mar 19 2011

Over 2000 people came to the Sydney Town Hall on Wednesday March 16 to see Independent journalist John Pilger, Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie and civil liberties’ lawyer Julian Burnside speak at the 'Breaking Australia's Silence: WikiLeaks and Freedom' event and to show their support for Australian citizen Julian Assange, WikiLeaks and freedom.

Mary Kostakidis moderated the event which was put together and sponsored by The Sydney Peace Foundation, the City of Sydney, Sydney City Council, Getup and Amnesty International.

Pilger started the night off by talking about the leaked documents from the Pentagon and the British Defence Ministry, dated March 2008, that called for a campaign to “destroy WikiLeaks’ centre of gravity," and "its public trust” with “threats of exposure and criminal prosecution”. He told the audience:
“The real threat is not WikiLeaks or Julian Assange, but you. The real threat is you finding out the truth about those who pretend to be democratic, and to act in your interests, and to promote a peaceful world. The real threat is you being able to call your government to account.”

“Unless we make our voices heard now, Julian Assange is likely to end up in a Kafkaesque judicial system in the US, which is now so corrupted that not a single detainee since 9/11 has been accorded any redress in America’s courts, including innocent people detained for years and tortured.”
Deafening applause filled the Sydney Town Hall when Pilger announced that former Guantanamo Bay detainee and Australian David Hicks was sitting in the front row.

Hicks was seized in Afghanistan during the 2001 US invasion and was imprisoned as an “enemy combatant” for six years at Guantanamo Bay. While there he suffered severe abuse and torture with the full support of the Australian Government at the time. Hicks was only released because he pled guilty to the U.S. military's trumped up charges against him in order to be given a short sentence and a transfer to an Australian prison.

When WikiLeaks started publishing the leaked US diplomatic cables and classified documents that angered and embarrassed the U.S. government, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard publicly denounced Assange’s actions as “illegal” and Attorney-General Robert McClelland stated that the Labor government would cooperate with efforts to prosecute Assange in the US. Pilger said of this:
“Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have broken no law and are charged with no crime, and yet it’s clear the Gillard government is trying to do to Assange what (John) Howard did to David Hicks.”
Pilger also pointed out the recent revelation that the Gillard government has secretly investigated whether Assange could be charged with treason under Australian law.

Gillard was confronted by Assange via video tape during ABC's Q&A program earlier this week about her loyalties to Australia and its citizens, breaking pre-election promises and if she has been exchanging information about Australian citizens or WikiLeaks employees with foreign countries.

Assange told Gillard that he has "intelligence that your government has been exchanging information with foreign powers about Australian citizens working for WikiLeaks", and wants to know when Gillard will "come clean about precisely what information" she has supplied to "foreign powers about Australian citizens working or affiliated with WikiLeaks?" Gillard replied:
"I honestly don't know what he's talking about. So I'm afraid I can't help him with a full and frank exchange about people who work with WikiLeaks because to my knowledge it hasn't happened."
Assange also asked Gillard if she thought that the Australian people should charge her with treason if she has exchanged information with foreign powers?

Click here to read more about the confrontation between Gillard and Assange.

Pilger told the audience that he had information Attorney-General McClelland had been told that the Swedish charges against Assange “stink” and said:
“The implications for Assange in Sweden are dire.”
Pilger finished his speech off by talking about the important service Assange and WikiLeaks provide to the world and the role they played in putting a spotlight on government corruption and the secret diplomacy between the U.S. and other governments. He said:
“We have a right to know about these machinations. We have a right to know these things, just as the people of Egypt and Tunisia had the right to know about the corruption of their regimes. They acted on that information. Certainly we can be inspired by what others have done fearlessly.”
After Pilger delivered his speech Andrew Wilkie began his. Wilkie was elected last year as an Independent member of the federal government, but before that he was an Australian intelligence officer that resigned his position in March of 2008, just before the start of the Iraq war, and publicly condemned the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

When Wilkie criticized Gillard last December for “showing contempt for the rule of law, contempt for presumption of innocence and contempt for freedom of the press,” he received support and encouragement from around the country.

Wilkie told the crowd that one of the reasons he supports WikiLeaks is his concern over censorship and said:
“What we are seeing here with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, is another attempt to censor the internet, which will be to deny it its great strength.”
Wilkie also spoke about the anger Australians have about:
“the way a succession of Australian governments have been prepared to treat Australian citizens."
Wilkie talked about Mamdouh Habib, another Australian citizen that was held at Guantanamo Bay that received compensation from the Australian government. Wilkie said that the Australian government giving Habib compensation was:
“all the proof we need that that man was treated wrongly and that Australian governments were party to that mistreatment.”
Wilkie said that David Hicks had been:
“fed into a grinder that has no similarity to any decent justice system.”
Wilkie finished by talking about how the Labor government has shown "no interest" since they won office in:
“conducting a full and proper inquiry, not into David Hicks, but into the system that treated him the way it did and into the government that allowed it to happen.”
Final speaker Julian Burnside said that Assange and WikiLeaks did "nothing wrong” when they published the embarrassing diplomatic cables, the classified documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the 'Collateral Murder' video. He said that the Gillard government “betrayed one of our own citizens”.

Burnside also spoke about the efforts to extradite Assange to Sweden, where he has not been charged with anything but is wanted for questioning by the Swedish police about accusations of rape and sexual molestation made against him by Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin. Assange denies the allegations and says he had consensual sex with the two women. Burnside finished by saying:
“Anyone who thinks the extradition is actually about alleged sexual crimes, has been living in sad isolation for too long.”
Lawyers for Assange have recently filed an appeal against Judge Howard Riddle's ruling that Assange should be extradited to Sweden because he felt Assange could get a fair trial in Sweden and that his extradition to Sweden would not violate his human rights. Assange is still under house arrest at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk,UK.

Assange and his lawyers fear that if he is extradited to Sweden he may then be extradited to the United States, where he could face torture, confinement at Guantanamo Bay, both, or even the death penalty.

Professor Stuart Rees, the Sydney Peace Foundation's Director thought it was great to have so many people show up for the forum and said:
“This was one of the largest public meetings since the 2003 Iraq war protest."

“The audience’s response shows a complete mismatch between the attitudes of the Australian Government and that of the general public."

“In terms of a plea for justice, the biggest ovation went to David Hicks,”
The Sydney Peace Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1998 within the University of Sydney and aims to promote peace and justice in Australia.

Earlier this year Assange had been chosen by the Sydney Peace Foundation to receive a rare gold metal for peace with justice award, which is different from the annual Sydney Peace Prize the foundation also gives out.

In the Foundation's 14-year history, the honour has previously only been given to three other people, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Japanese lay Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda. The Foundation said that Assange has been given this honor for his "exceptional courage and initiative in pursuit of human rights".

Depending on where Assange is residing, he has been fighting extradition to Sweden, the Foundation said they would present the award to him in Sydney in mid-May or at a ceremony in London later in the year. Prof Rees has said "Even if we have to travel secretly and announce the award later, we will do that," we will do what is necessary to ensure that the award is given to Mr Assange in person.

Click here to read more about Assange being awarded the Sydney Peace Medal.

The three speakers were followed by a short question period and then Pilger finished the event with an appeal for continued support of Assange and WikiLeaks.

Natalie, a student from the U.S. studying Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney who attended the event said that the leaked cables had been:
“A validation of what a lot of people have suspected in the back of their minds, which is that our politicians tend to say one thing in public and in front of the press, and do quite a different thing behind closed doors, when they think no-one’s looking or watching."

“What they’re trying to protect are not the interests of the common people. No matter who is there we have to hold them to a certain level of scrutiny. When we blindly feel that if we just choose the other guy then he will do everything that he said, we see that it’s not true. We elected Obama on ‘hope’ and ‘change’ and we can see right now with Guantanamo Bay and a lot of other issues that not much has changed. I think we are learning these hard lessons today.”
Click here to read the speech John Pilger gave.

Click here to read the speech Andrew Wilkie gave.

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