Hundreds of Julian Assange supporters from all over Europe gathered Saturday in London to ask that the founder of WikiLeaks be released from detention and spared extradition to the United States.
Italians and Germans were among those who showed their support for the 48-year-old before his extradition hearing opened at the Woolwich crown court on February 24. Assange’s father, John Shipton, addressed the crowd in Parliament Square. Protesters brandished banners with slogans such as “Journalism is not a crime”.
The United States wants Assange to face 18 charges of publishing classified government documents, which could result in a 170-year prison sentence.
Shipton told protesters that he did not understand why his son was being held in Belmarsh prison in south-east London. “I bring you his affection, his nobility of purpose and his strength of character after nine years,” he said.
Almost a decade has passed since WikiLeaks published secret US diplomatic cables and documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Assange supporters shed crucial light on American abuse. Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor in chief of WikiLeaks, told protesters that she was against a “dark force”. He said: “It’s not about left or right, we can unite on this, it’s a dark force against [those] who want justice, transparency and truth “.
Other speakers included former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and stylist Vivienne Westwood, who wore a halo by the name of Assange and referred to herself as “the angel of democracy “. His supporters claim that the extradition attempt is politically motivated and driven by people embarrassed by the Wikileaks revelations.
Among the crowd was a 24 year old who wore a gold mask that had flown from Berlin in the morning. He said he also wanted to make a statement against Boris Johnson. “Johnson wants to break all the laws, the rule of law. It’s a real threat to all of us, “he said.
Wolf Pozinski, 60, from Amsterdam, also wanted to show his support. He said: “It is important that people like Assange are not criminalized for journalism that has revealed a war crime.”
In 2010 WikiLeaks released a confidential U.S. military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad which killed a dozen people, including two Reuters reporters.
Two years later, Assange took refuge in the London embassy of Ecuador to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was accused of sexual crimes. However, Swedish prosecutors reported last November that they stopped an investigation into a rape charge, explaining that although the complainant’s evidence was believed to be credible and reliable, the witnesses’ memories had faded over the decade since the accusations have been filed. Assange has always denied the accusations.
He was removed from the embassy last April and arrested for not surrendering to the court. He has been in prison since the United States filed his extradition request.