Journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger has called for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to stand up to America and stand up for Australian Julian Assange, who faces life in prison if extradited from the UK on espionage charges.

Speaking at the touring exhibition of Anything to Say? – which is raising awareness of government prosecutions of whistleblowers – Pilger berated the PM for his pre-election promises to advocate for Assange and his post-election silence.

“It is my government’s responsibility to bring home an Australian citizen,” the 83-year-old told a crowd of 150 or more people gathered outside St Andrew’s Cathedral at Sydney’s Town Hall yesterday.

“[He is] a man who has been persecuted for the kind of journalism that is a true public service, a man who has not lied, or deceived — like so many of his counterfeits in the media, but has told people the truth about how the world is run.

“Will Albanese back Australia or Washington on Julian Assange? If he (Albanese) fails to secure Julian’s release, Australia will cease to be sovereign. We will be little Americans.”

Joining Assange yesterday at the unveiling of Davide Dormino’s sculpture were an array of notable speakers including Australian army lawyer David McBride, from the ABC’s ‘Afghan Files’ whistleblower case, Assange’s father John Shipton and his lawyer Stephen Kenny.


Whistleblower David McBride addresses the crowd. Photo: Ryan Lum.


McBride who is awaiting trial on several charges relating to the leaking of information to the ABC, between 2014 and 2016, that exposed alleged war crimes in Afghanistan told the crowd the war in Afghanistan was a “charade”.

“We got into this dystopian world where the truth no longer mattered,” he said. “We were making heroes of people who weren’t heroes. Putting medals on men who were murderers. We were making people villains who weren’t villains.”

He said he felt he had no other choice than to leak the information, adding: “It wasn’t so much a choice, it was my job as a lawyer.

“I knew they were covering up war crimes and… I just thought this is your job to expose this… and most whistleblowers say the same thing. It’s not really a choice.”

Anything to Say? depicts Assange and US military and CIA whistleblowers, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden standing on chairs. A fourth chair is left empty for members of the public to stand upon to show support.

Dormino said: “The empty chair gives us an opportunity to go out from our comfort zone and to develop our critical sense.

“Art reaches where politics fail… art cannot change the world but it has the capacity of giving us a different vision… and to see the world with new eyes.”

You cannot imprison someone who has done no more than the editor of The Washington Post, The New York Times or any of those other papers have done.

The event marks the fourth year of Assange’s imprisonment in Belmarsh Prison in London, where he is fighting extradition to the US.

Assange is wanted over 17 counts of espionage related to the Iraq War Documents leak in 2010, when Wikileaks published 391,832 military documents, provided by US intelligence analyst Manning. The leak revealed, among other things, war crimes committed by US troops and an additional 15,000 civilian deaths that had previously been unaccounted for. It is remembered mostly for the ‘Collateral Murder’ video that showed a US helicopter gunship mowing down a group of men with machine gun fire, some of whom were part of a Reuters camera crew.

The Wikileaks founder sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he spent seven years trying to avoid extradition, but was arrested in 2019 after the then President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, signed a $4.2 billion International Monetary Fund financing deal with the US in March 2019 and withdrew Assange’s asylum status.

Pilger said he recently visited Assange in Belmarsh and said as he left the room “he held his fist high and clenched as he always does. He is the embodiment of courage”.

Pilger added: “His case is universal, it’s about freedom basically. Julian is in a prison, he should be free. We’ll all be in a kind of prison unless he’s free.”

Kenny, Assange’s lawyer told the crowd the Australian government needed to act because the attack on Assange was an attack on the free press.

“You cannot imprison someone who has done no more than the editor of The Washington Post, The New York Times or any of those other papers have done,” he said. “If you want to try Julian, try them as well and show us that it’s fair, because it’s not.”


Julian Assange’s father John Shipton seen alongside the statue Anything to Say? Photo: Ryan Lum.


A spokesman for the Blue Mountains for Assange campaign, which rallies people together at the steps of Town Hall every Friday, said he was mobilised the moment Assange was arrested.

“I thought now it’s serious, now the world is against Julian Assange,” he said. “Our democracy is going… we’ve got to be a constant reminder. In total, charges Assange faces carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.”

Referring to the bugging of Assange and his lawyers by the US, he added: “As a result 88 per cent of Australians do not agree with the CIA’s treatment of Julian Assange.

“Australia is aware but America is not…. our job is to wake America up… there is hard cold evidence of their illegality, of their thuggery, of their bold face criminality.”

I saw the Sydney Morning Herald and it was like I was looking at some mad person’s comic, with maps of bombs pouring down towards Australia.

In the face of recent news, Pilger touched on the the US-Australia Force Posture Agreement and the fears of a potential American-led war with China.

He said Australia is a country with no enemies and China is its biggest trading partner, adding in reference to “scaremongering” national security analysis in one paper this week: “I saw the Sydney Morning Herald and it was like I was looking at some mad person’s comic, with maps of bombs pouring down towards Australia… But how long are we going to put up with this?

“I understand there is a poll… a majority of Australians would prefer to be neutral. That’s very good news. We’ve got to hear from the people.”

The art installation will be at Town Hall in Sydney until today, March 11.

Photos by Ryan Lum. Additional reporting Lorenzo Canu.