Over the past month, Australian pressure on the Biden administration to drop the charges against Julian Assange has grown significantly.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earned the gratitude of Assange’s father, John Shipton, by leading the call for the charges to be dropped, making his strongest statement yet on the Assange issue on May 4, declaring:
“The US administration is certainly very aware of what the Australian government’s position is. There is nothing to be served by his ongoing incarceration.”
On May 9, members of the Parliamentary Friends of the Bring Julian Assange Home Group, a cross-party alliance of 48 senators and members of the House of Representatives, met with the US ambassador Caroline Kennedy to convey the warning that the continuing persecution of Julian Assange endangered the US-Australian alliance.
Three days later, on May 12, the Sydney Morning Herald, the most rabid backers of the coming war with China, published an editorial, The time has come to end the sorry Julian Assange saga, which concluded:
“The time has come to end this sorry saga. In our new spirit of friendship, the visit by the US president is surely an opportunity for the governments to show and share some common humanity.”
The poll accompanying the editorial showed 79% of Australians wanted the Biden administration to drop its pursuit of Assange, while another 8% were unsure, and only 13% agreed with the continuing US prosecution.
As he prepared for his trip to Australia, the Prime Minister, the parliament, the press and the public had sent President Biden an unambiguous message.
Like the SMH editorial, many Assange supporters were hoping that President Biden’s proposed visit to Australia would lead to the charges against Assange being dropped. Ending the Assange persecution would have been an easy gift for Biden, unlike the $368 billion the Australian people were being asked to cough up for the war chest of the empire.
The Assange Campaign had organised a protest rally and march in Sydney for Wednesday, May 24, the day Biden was expected in town for the QUAD meeting. Julian’s closest family, Stella Assange, Julian’s wife, Julian’s brother Gabriel Shipton, and Julian’s father, John Shipton, would be in Sydney to speak at the rally. Arrangements were made for Stella to speak at the National Press Club on May 22, and to meet with the Parliamentary Friends of the Bring Julian Assange Home Group on May 23, as well as speaking at the rally on Wednesday.
Although Biden’s non-appearance deprived Assange’s family of a focus for their protest, it left the media space open for Stella Assange, who filled it brilliantly, starring at the Press Club and charming even the 7:30 Report’s resident dragon Sarah Ferguson.
Her address to the National Press Club on May 22 had me on the verge of tears, as she detailed Julian’s bleak imprisonment in his two-metre by three-metre cell in HMP Belmarsh, the maximum security prison where he has spent his last 1500 days, locked down for twenty-two hours each day, and the long queues she and her two young children must endure to see their husband and father.
She recalled how Assange would tell his sons about the life he had lived in Australia, catching yabbies and going fishing for flathead and black fish in the Sandon river with his grandfather Warren. Of how he reared a fledgling rainbow lorikeet when he lived on Magnetic Island when he was thirteen, feeding the lorikeet on mangos until it was strong enough to rejoin the wild.
“He tells the children about Tilly, the chestnut coated mare which he would ride when he stayed in the Northern Rivers. Or how he surfed in Byron bay as a teenager. He tells them about his beekeeping in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria.
“That’s how I imagine Julian when he is free. Not behind the cold blue glare of a computer screen, but cycling through Melbourne like he used to, or feeling his bare feet sink into the cool sand, like I did yesterday on Bondi beach.
“Today, Julian’s feet only feel the hard, dull, even cement on the prison floor. When he goes to the yard for exercise, there is no grass, no sand. Just the bitumen paving surrounded by cameras and layers of razor wire overhead.”
Partnered with Jen Robinson in the following Q+A, the duo effortlessly dispatched the often embarrassingly ignorant questions of the Australian press.
The one question from the Murdoch media came from a young woman, representing the Australian, who asked:
“Julian Assange has long defended his actions by saying he is a journalist. However, much of the leaked material he has published came from Russia and had a major impact on the US election. Would it be acceptable for me as a journalist to publish stolen emails from Australian politicians supplied by China, and what would you say about allegations he is a propagandist for Russia?”
Since the material Assange faces extradition over came from Chelsea Manning, a US intelligence analyst, this was misinformation, followed by smear, a clumsy attempt to vilify Assange that provoked laughter from the press club audience.
Following the press club, Stella Assange met with many of the 48 members of the Parliamentary Group to Bring Julian Assange home, although PM Albanese, a member of that group, did not attend, and declined a private meeting with Stella.
On May 24, along with John Shipton and Gabriel Shipton, Stella Assange addressed a gathering of Assange supporters in Sydney’s Hyde Park.
She began by thanking the audience, before declaring, to wild applause.
“This is my first time to your land and it won’t be my last, obviously, because I’m going to come back home here with Julian and our kids, they’re Australian citizens, will come home too.”
The speech was a rallying call to Australian supporters, whom she declared were at the forefront of a global movement for justice.
“We’ve reached a turning point because they know that we know that they are wrong, and that they are cruel and that they are torturing Julian because he did the right thing, because he is in prison because he exposed the crimes of others. And that no decent human being will ever tolerate that. The only people whose interest remains in Julian’s imprisonment are the ones who are guilty and implicated in those crimes.”
She ended with a simple plea for her husband’s life:
“Let this man be. Let him live! Enough is enough. Let him come home to our children. Let him just have dinner at home. Let him sit on the couch. Let him take a nap. Let him feel the air on his skin. It’s been denied to him for so long. Let’s make it happen, you guys. Thank you.”