Amnesty International poster for Day of Action on 20 Feb 2024 for Julian Assange

Julian Assange supporters are invited to join Manchester Amnesty for an afternoon of performance and speeches in St. Peter’s Square, Manchester, on Tuesday 20 February from 12-3pm.

The Manchester Amnesty event aims to draw attention to Assange’s renewed application for appeal against extradition to the United States, which will be taking place at London’s Royal Courts of Justice on 20 and 21 February 2024.

Assange is an award-winning journalist, and founder of the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks. He has been imprisoned in Belmarsh Prison for almost five years, for obtaining and publishing hundreds of thousands of classified US documents, which were sent to WikiLeaks in 2010 by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. These leaks exposed US military crimes during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and widespread torture and abuse at Guantanamo Bay, a US military detention facility in Cuba. If extradited to the US, Assange will be charged under the Espionage Act, and face up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison.

The street action is being organized by Lima Al-iskalachi, co-ordinator of Manchester Amnesty’s Press Freedom and Julian Assange Group. This group aims to fight for press freedom, with a focus on the Assange case, due to its importance.

“Our Manchester Amnesty group is made up of smaller subgroups, or campaign groups, all fighting for peace and justice in differing areas,” Al-iskalachi explains.

“Regarding the street action, we are aiming to bring some wonderful local art to the heart of the Manchester community and, in doing this, we will be joining Stella Assange and organisations around the globe, showing solidarity with Julian’s last court hearing. This case represents a pivotal moment for press freedom, corruption, and a means for justice, so it’s vital we stand in solidarity, for a peaceful world our children can enjoy,” she says.

“This event will be family friendly, exciting and engaging, to attract everyone and anyone who enjoys brilliant performances! Along with all our artists, we will be joined by speakers from pro-peace organisations as well as our own Manchester Amnesty members, to inform and educate the public of the relevance of this case.”

There has been widespread condemnation of Assange’s imprisonment, and growing calls from media and human rights organizations worldwide, to halt the possible extradition, including from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Jill Edwards. If it goes ahead, he would be the first publisher to be convicted under the Espionage Act, and this would set a dangerous precedent for journalism. Holding the powerful to account, by publishing information in the public interest, is a journalist’s job, and those who do this work should not be fearful of retribution.

Assange’s physical and mental health have deteriorated significantly as a result of more than a decade of ongoing lawsuits and his time in prison. In 2021, his extradition was blocked by the British courts, because of the ‘substantial’ risk that he would commit suicide.  But, in 2022, Home Secretary Priti Patel approved his extradition, and this resulted in an unsuccessful legal appeal against the US order in June last year.

“We need to fight for freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” says Jack, a lifelong activist, and member of Manchester-based punk duo, The Dirt, who are currently touring with EMF.

“Anyone who wants to expose corruption or other wrongdoing needs to be able to have the confidence to do that, without any fear of conviction, or of being brought down and silenced.

“This happens in totalitarian, oppressed countries, but we should never be in fear of speaking the truth and saying what we want. If we don’t have a balanced media, then freedom of speech and freedom of expression will die. We need to fight for this,” Jack argues.

“If we silence Assange, who has told some truths that some don’t want us to know, then who is next? This is a dangerous place that we are in at the moment,” he says.

According to Nicola Richards, 50, a primary school teacher from Tameside, who is another active member of Manchester Amnesty, the issues Assange has brought to the world, via WikiLeaks, have opened her eyes to injustices in the UK.

“I always thought this country stood for good, what is right in the world: human rights, civil liberties, fairness and democracy,” she says. “But Assange’s case has blown that idea to pieces for me.”

“Several things really worry me. Firstly, press freedom and independent journalism are absolutely necessary for a meaningful, functioning democracy,” Richards says.

“But I am also interested in the human side of things. Julian has been persecuted and tortured through the justice system in our country. America needs to drop the charges. He shouldn’t be extradited from this country, as his health has seriously deteriorated.”

Although the UK has sought a diplomatic agreement from the US that Assange wouldn’t be put under Special Administrative Measures if extradited, unfortunately these agreements are not legally binding.

Special Administrative Measures are often used in the US to restrict the contact dangerous prisoners have with the outside world, and this means that if Assange is extradited there is a very real risk of torture and other forms of punishment and degrading treatment, including solitary confinement.

“It’s down to us, the public, to say ‘no way’ to this. The UK courts have let us down. It’s a disgrace!” Richards adds.

The two-day public hearing will be Assange’s final chance, in the British courts, to prevent extradition. All those who support our right to know the truth are urged to come along to St Peter’s Square on 20 February and show their solidarity.

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  • Charlie is a freelance journalist, with special interests in human rights, civil liberties and the environment.

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