Protest against the extradition of Julian Assange at UK Embassy

Activists protest in Rome.

ROME – Activists gather in front of the UK Embassy on Human Rights Day, to protest the extradition of Julian Assange to the US.

 The Australian co-founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is currently being imprisoned in Belmarsh Prison in South London, this case can undoubtedly be defined as “an albatross hanging around the UK’s neck,” activists decided to gather in front of the UK Embassy on Dec. 10, and warn the British Ambassador to Rome, Edward Llewellyn, on occasion of the International Human Rights Day. “There is increasing public awareness of the many human rights being denied to Assange. And this is having a boomerang effect against the UK itself.”

 “We have noticed growing dissatisfaction with and mistrust of the United Kingdom,” the protesters told in the speeches they read aloud. “People are beginning to condemn the UK for holding a journalist and publisher as a political prisoner, without conviction, in solitary confinement” and for apparently “kowtowing to an arrogant U.S. demand to extradite him – arrogant as it is clearly political and offers no prospect of a fair trial.”

 According to the provisions of a 1917 law against spying, Assange is to be prosecuted by the U.S. government, however a clash happens to say otherwise, in fact the Espionage Act. sees Julian’s revelations of the secret documents of the U.S. as an action “in the interest of the public” and thus lawful according to a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (The New York Times vs. United States). However, the Espionage Act prohibits courts from considering whether a similar act (whether spying or revealing confidential documents) was in fact carried out “in the interest of the public”, thus leaving Assange defenceless.

 The European Convention on Human Rights prohibits extraditions when the detainee is at known risk of facing an unfair trial in the destination country, while the relevant UK-US Treaty does not allow extraditions if they are “politically motivated”.

 Human Rights Day was a very rainy one in Rome, but it did not stop the 80 activists from sharing their umbrellas with one another as they protested outside the British Embassy. Despite the poor weather, they together chanted “Free Assange” and then recreated a living version of sculptor Davide Dormino’s work “Anything to Say?”. It portays Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden standing on their chairs, like the defiant students in the Peter Weir film “Dead Poets Society”.

 Given that the Christmas holidays are around the corner, the activists chose to symbolically open gift boxes  “offered to the world by Julian Assange”, each present representing one of Assange’s contributions to the protection of fundamental human rights. “Assange’s revelations,” said the spokesperson for the event of FREE ASSANGE Italia group, Paolo Capezzali, “have stopped wars, thus protecting our right to peace; they have exposed environmental crimes and food fraud, thus protecting our right to life and good health. We should all be grateful to him. But, instead, the UK continues to deny Assange his fundamental human rights: his right to freedom, to free speech and, as a journalist, his right to publish freely; it continues to reduce Assange to silence in Belmarsh Prison and if it cedes him to the US, the UK will be complicit in silencing Assange for life.”

 The activists described the case as “relentless judicial persecution”  to Ambassador Llewellyn, and claimed that  “is beginning to cost the UK considerably in terms of its soft power, i.e. its attractiveness and trustworthiness. Increasingly since June, when word began to spread of the imminent extradition of Julian Assange, we hear derisive remarks against Britain; we learn of students of English who, out of reaction, have cancelled enrolment in a British school in favour of an Irish one; we even hear increasing talk of boycotting British products – DON’T buy British – if extradition goes through.”

 “The incarceration of Julian Assange in the Maximum Security Prison of Belmarsh is manifestly a terrible stain upon the reputation of this country,” said Emmy Butlin from the London-based Committee to Defend Julian Assange, with whom the Rome activists spoke live through  the Internet. “So we have a message from the home country to our representative in Italy,” Butlin added, standing in front of the Belmarsh Prison in the company of other members of the Committee, gathered there for Human Rights Day, “Mr. Ambassador, public opinion in the UK is overwhelmingly in support of Julian Assange and finds extradition to the United States unacceptable.”

 “Britain does not need this albatross hanging around its neck forever,“ concluded Patrick Boylan of the group FREE ASSANGE Italia. “It is time to release Julian Assange and send him back to his family in Australia. And what better time than Christmas?”



Protester holding a "Free Assange" sign.