The Seige of Julian Assange


Ciaron O’Reilly is an Australian activist who has spent the past years supporting Julian Assange, acting as a non-violent bodyguard for him during his court appearances, and vigiling outside the Ecuadorian embassy.
In this interview with Bay-FM’s Dr JOHN JIGGENS he gives a picture of Assange’s life in his Ecuadorian asylum, under seige by the police, while the spectre of rendition to the US holds him a prisoner there.

JJ: Ciaron O’Reilly, firstly can you describe Julian Assange’s living quarters in the Ecuadorian embassy.
CO: Yes the Ecuadorian embassy is located in a building just across a small road from Harrods. The embassy only takes up half of the ground floor, so as you enter the building on the left is the Ecuadorian embassy and on the right is the Colombian embassy. The Ecuadorian embassy is about five rooms, Julian is in one of these rooms. At the moment he is in a small room at the back of the building. There is no natural source of sunlight for him, only a small area to move around in. For three years the British police were visibly surrounding the building. Initially they had dozens and dozens of police there when Julian first entered the embassy five years ago.
Just before the United Nations ruled the detention was illegal, that it was arbitrary detention, the Christmas before last, they took away the visible policing. They had spent 11 million pounds on sustaining a 24/7 police presence outside the embassy. And when you consider the Chillcot Inquiry into the Iraq War – why Britain was in Iraq – cost 10 million pounds, it’s pretty ridiculous and outrageous.

JJ: So how is Julian handling his confinement?
CO: He is a remarkable person. He is obviously very bright and very committed to his work. He has pretty much been doing this stuff since he was 16 or 17, so that’s nearly 30 years I guess. And I think it is really the work that sustains and nourishes him in these tough times.
He is someone of great mental and psychic strength, to be under this pressure, not knowing when this will end – when this arbitrary, indefinite detention will come to an end. So it’s not like doing a jail sentence when you’ve got a finishing line in mind and a finishing date. It is an open ended kind of eternal now.

JJ: Why did Sweden drop the charges against him?
CO: Well there were never any formal charges. There was an inquiry and when it started in 2010 Julian reported to a police station in Stockholm and the Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm came to the conclusion that there was no absence of consent, there was no crime, and he could go on his way, which he did. And then another Prosecutor in Gothenburg resurrected the inquiry. So there was never any formal charges.

I think this Marianne Ny, this Prosecutor, her mission, or vendetta, or whoever she was working for… it didn’t require much effort from her. She pretty much sat on her arse for the last five years and wouldn’t come to England and interview Julian. Julian was quite willing to be interviewed in England before he went into the embassy and while he’s been in the embassy or he could have been interviewed via Skype. She finally, they came in December last year and the conclusion they reached is that they are now finishing the inquiry.

JJ: So even tho the Swedes have dropped the charges, the British police are still determined to arrest him. Why is there such a determined exertion by Britain, the United States and Sweden to get him?
CO: The big thing, and why Julian has received political asylum from the government of Ecuador, is the case the United States has been building against him and WikiLeaks through the Grand Jury. America is an empire and you even had Julia Gillard, the Labor Prime Minister of Australia, offer to take away Julian’s citizenship and passport back in 2010, when this first came out. So that’s a Labor government willing to turn over Julian, let alone the British or the Americans. So that’s an ongoing inquiry and the head of the C.I.A. came out recently at a press conference and said it was a big priority for the new administration to pursue Julian and WikiLeaks

JJ: If the US get their hands on Assange, what fate awaits him.
CO: I think anything from execution, to life without parole, to a similar sentence to that Chelsea Manning got. I remember in 2010 when I first heard of Julian, I thought this is the guy in history who has pissed off the most amount of powerful people in the shortest amount of time. And he hasn’t backed off from the work he has chosen to do with his life and he is still upsetting lots of powerful people.
All he has done is what the New York Times and the Guardian and other newspapers did, which is to publish these leaked, classified documents. If they are going to pursue Julian, they should pursue the Guardian and the New York Times as well. That’s an argument still to be had. I suppose that if Julian stepped out of the embassy now, the police would arrest him and I assume that the Americans would have an extradition warrant ready for him. He could appeal that, and there would be some legal struggle in England, but I guess he would be put on trial in the United States.

JJ: In its first four years, WikiLeaks broke story after story that shook the powers of the world. Given his extraordinary achievements as a journalist and publisher, what do you think of Assange’s treatment by the mainstream media?

CO: I think most contemptible has been for Guardian newspaper which he worked with on the releases in 2010, who’ve abandoned him and also abandoned other whistleblowers like Edward Snowden – people willing to put themselves at risk and then are exploited by what’s supposed to be a liberal left media newspaper.
The Guardian’s consistent character assassination and attacks on Julian has probably undercut what natural forces of support that would have come from England from the liberal left. There’s a lot of hostility to Julian in England, much more so than in Australia and United States, and that’s got a lot to do with the campaign the Guardian has run.
Why they have run these lines? There’s a number of different theories: one is that they detest him because he’s basically an Australian hippy kid and they are all upper class people who have gone through Oxford and Cambridge and they resent the rock star status that he had in 2010. But I was talking to a Guardian feature writer on one occasion and he said, no, it’s more serious than that. He said what journalists value is being the gatekeeper of secrets, who get to know how much they get to know and when they get to know. And WikiLeaks comes along with the primary data and throw it up in the air and says, go work it out yourself! So it kind of undermines and undercuts their economic base and their status as journalists.
The Guardian’s technique is to create cynicism around Julian to accuse him of being arrogant – as if they’re not! (laughs). And it really is a cowardly response from Australians, or the left in London, or whoever, to have a cynical position about someone who is indefinitely detained in London for exposing the machinations of the US war machine. It is outrageous and people need to be outraged by it.

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