People gathered on the Town Hall steps for the freedom of journalist and whistleblower Julian Assange. (Photo: Elena Garcia Araujo)
Protesters have been gathering every Friday at Town Hall for the past year to rally for the release of journalist and whistleblower Julian Assange. Specifically, they are calling for the Australian government to act in helping an Australian citizen imprisoned overseas.
The 27th of November marked a year since the rallies began. For the commemoration, people spoke about the injustices Assange was experiencing and the repercussions he would face if extradited to the United States.
In particular, people pointed out the irony in the fact that Assange’s celebrated acts of journalism are the same acts that now see him facing extradition to the United States under espionage charges. During Assange’s time as editor in 2011, WikiLeaks was awarded the Walkley award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. The main sentiments echoed at Friday’s gathering were that journalists should not face such severe penalties for exposing the truth.
Tony Wakeham is one of the people who has been gathering on the Town Hall steps every Friday for the last year. He mentioned that there are under twenty attendees each week and that the pandemic did not drastically influence numbers.
“We’ll continue to do it until the man is set free,” Wakeham said.
Tony Wakeham introduced speakers and read out a poem about Assange not belonging in prison. (Photo: Elena Garcia Araujo)
“Because we’re so small, we’re all trying to think up different things, and, you know, we’ve tried street theatre, and poetry and music, and, you know, all sorts of different things, and we get different effects from those different activities.”
Assange’s father John Shipton came to speak about the issue.
John Shipton addressed the crowds, pleaing for the freedom and wellbeing of his son. (Photo: Fred Pawle)
“Not to be overdramatic, [but] he’ll die. I’ll tell you just a little bit, special administrative measures, which Julian would fall under if he was in the prison. [It] requires a person to be 23 and a half hours by themselves, they’re inspected every half hour. They have virtually no suicides. The meaning of that is, the people there have to continue their suffering…”
Former British Army major and Australian Military Lawyer David McBride, the whistleblower behind the ABC’s ‘Afghan Files’, which revealed crimes by people in the Australian Defence Force, spoke about the need for the government to do more to help Australian whistleblowers. McBride could be facing lifelong charges for his role in the Afghan Files story, and does not want Assange to face similar consequences for documents published on WikiLeaks.
He called to protesters that “We need to start taking the focus off leakers and people at the bottom and putting the focus where it deserves to be… on the people at the top.”
David McBride spoke to crowds about his experiences. (Photo: Elena Garcia Araujo)
Chants also broke out with the same sentiment. Protesters called for action from Australian politicians and leaders based in the United Kingdom. The exposure of war crimes is legal in both of these regions.
Protesters demands for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian #Assange fuelled by concerns for the state of #freespeech and #freepress in Australia as journalists and whistle blowers continue to face prosecution. @CentralNewsUTS pic.twitter.com/GweQyt0EdV— Emilia Roux (@emiliaroux2) November 27, 2020
WikiLeaks Party founder James McGlone also attended the rally, explaining that “We’ve got a situation where [if] a foreign government has power over citizens outside of their jurisdiction, then any country could demand the same thing… We’d have no freedoms once we dissolve the borders, simply to let a foreign government indite our citizens… It’s a Pandora’s box.”
Along with the urgent pleas for the extradition of Assange to be stopped, people gathered on the steps to deliver poems and perform songs calling for his release.
Musicians performing at the rally. (Photos: Mark Kriedmann)
People also showed their support by holding signs on the path and laying banners across Sydney Town Hall’s steps and railings.
Gallery: Signs, banners and flyers. (Photos: Emilia Roux (2), Mark Kriedmann (3), Briannah Devlin (1), Fred Pawle (3), Elena Garcia Araujo (1) )
The group hope to see an increase in the number of people rallying each week as they continue to meet every Friday at Town Hall to continue to raise awareness for Assange’s case.