August 19, 2012
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief who was granted asylum earlier on August 16, delivered a speech from the balcony of the Ecuador embassy in London, where he has been holed up for two months. The speech was an opportunity for Assange to show gratitude toward his supporters while also reminding the world of what he sees the United States doing to not only go after whistleblowers but also target dissent. [Video.]
Wearing a blue shirt and red tie, he began, "I am here today because I cannot be there with you today," and immediately went into a roll call of all the people, government officials and countries he owed a thank you.
He shared how he had heard from inside the embassy "teams of police swarming up into the building through the internal fire escape," after a UK threat against the Ecuador embassy was made public late on August 15. Assange knew there would be witnesses because supporters came out late in the night to watch over the embassy.
"If the UK did not throw away the Vienna Conventions the other night, it is because the world was watching," he declared. "And the world was watching because you were watching."
Then he thanked Ecuador President Rafael Correa, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, the Ecuadorian people, the staff of the Ecuador embassy in London ("who have been showing me hospitality and kindness despite the threats we’ve all received’), the people and governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela and other Latin American countries who have supported his right to asylum, the people the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia ("who have supported me in strength, even when their governments have not"), the staff, supporters and sourced of WikiLeaks ("whose courage and commitment and loyalty has seen no equal") and to his family and children—who he said had been "denied their father."
Having shown heartfelt gratitude, Assange pivoted to addressing the United States, particularly the Obama administration. He stated, "As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression, and the health of our societies." He suggested the US government had a choice: return to and reaffirm values it was founded upon or "lurch off" a "precipice" and drag us all into a "dangerous and oppressive world, in which journalists fall silent under the fear of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark."
"I say it must turn back," he urged.
He called on the US to no longer pursue journalists who shine a light on "the secret crimes of the powerful." Stop this "foolish talk" amongst government officials about prosecuting media organizations, whether they be WikiLeaks or the New York Times. End the war on whistleblowers.
"Thomas Drake, and William Binney, and John Kiriakou and the other heroic US whistleblowers must — they must be pardoned and compensated for the hardships they’ve endured as servants of the public record," Assange declared.
Not to be forgotten, he highlighted Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and believed to have passed on the documents that gave WikiLeaks its most high-profile releases to date. He noted Manning had "endured months of torturous detention" at Quantico in Virginia. After two years in prison, he had yet to see a trial.
"Bradley Manning must be released," Assange added. "On Wednesday, Bradley Manning spent his 815th day of detention without trial. The legal maximum is 120 days." Though the US has actually not violated any law by delaying the trial because Manning was arraigned less than 120 days after the charges against him were referred to a court martial, the essential point is valid. The trial was scheduled for this September but has been pushed to November or January of next year.
Finally, to acknowledge and make clear that he is not the only one in the world who is being persecuted for dissent, he mentioned his friend, the Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab, who was sentenced to three years on August 16 for a tweet. He mentioned the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot, who was sentenced to two years in jail for a "political performance" the day after.
"There is unity in the oppression," he concluded. "There must be absolute unity and determination in the response."
The editor-in-chief then was met with a roar of applause and turned around and headed back into the embassy, where he could be for weeks or months before being allowed to have safe passage to Ecuador from the United Kingdom.
Notably, there was no mention of extradition to Sweden in his speech. It did not go into nitty gritty details of the situation. He thanked supporters, who have been condemned by pundits or commentators in the media for showing support to him. He made certain the world knew how much he appreciates the show of support from Latin America in the face of the American empire and he cast his plight in the context of oppression that world powers are purveying against citizens all over the world.
It contained a strong message. Everyone must stand tall in unity and face the oppression or else. The war on WikiLeaks is the war on good government employees in the United States, who have done their job and exposed corruption in the past decade. It is the war on dissidents in client states like Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, and other countries. It is the war on dissidents in Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Libya, Jordan and other countries that are fighting to be free. It is the many activists in Moscow, who stand tall against repression from the Russian government, and the people in Latin America, who continue to push their countries to be more democratic.
All the countries of people, from Australia to Yemen, from Uzbekistan to China, who stand up against power—That is the struggle that Assange believes he is fighting. WikiLeaks is, in fact, a part of all these struggles. Having released the US State Embassy cables to the world, there is something on just about every country or territory that people seeking liberation can arm themselves with as they advance their struggle. So, unwittingly or intentionally, the editor-in-chief of the first stateless media organization in the world has transformed himself into a world revolutionary and his fight, to him, is the fight of people of the world.