A warm early summer day in Melbourne, with crowds of Christmas shoppers strolling the streets and city workers heading home on a Tuesday evening. Into this mix a gathering slowly grows on the lawn of the State Library. A gathering for free speech, to defend Julian Assange and the Wikileaks website.
Photos | Youtube Video | More photos | WikiLeaks protesters march in Sydney despite police intimidation | Antony Loewenstein Blog from Sydney: Defending Wikileaks faces Oprah-obsessed police force | London IMC: Assange out on bail, Anonymous out in support | Ireland IMC: Photos from Australia House protest London
This is the second protest in a week in Melbourne on this issue. The crowd gathers, a mix of people. Yes, the traditional lefties are there, but also people in suits, office workers, a few families with children. There is a surprising variety of homemade placards to match the variety of people.
Wikileaks has revealed the lies our politicians tell us, about foreign policy dealings, about our nation's commitment to wars. No one likes being lied to, and that is perhaps where the public anger about the persecution of Assange and the wikileaks website originates from.
The work that wikileaks is doing is the province of journalism, but mainstream news outlets have failed the public, particularly in the USA where the media is more compliant, but also in other western nations. The fourth estate should be at the heart of exposing corruption in politics and the lies by politicians but to a large extent they have become complacent and the wall of secrets of politicians and Government has grown.
Australians have been blessed during the past week in experiencing some US culture - Oprah Winfrey and her entourage visiting Australia. One can only shake one's head at the spectacle of Oprah visiting Australia, with huge crowds amid the cliched journalism, while true investigative journalism which Assange's wikileaks website has enabled, is under constant attack. One young woman at the protest said it all in her placard: Free Assange Fuck Oprah.
Sarah Palin and members of the US congress have called for the assassination of Assange. Those statements are threats of violence - illegal in Australia, and those politicians could be charged with an offence if they visit Australia, according to Melbourne barrister Rob Stary who spoke at the rally.
Rob Stary also said that Julian's British lawyer, Mark Stephens, had indicated that a secret US grand jury had been set up in the US state of Virginia to work on charges that could be filed against Mr Assange. In the US they have the first amendment which guarantees free speech. Daniel Ellsburg was unable to be prosecuted for releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, and efforts to prosecute Assange and wikileaks may also fail, but not for the want of US politicians trying to avenge their embarrassment and cover their lies.
Corporate America - Paypal, Visa, Mastercard, and Amazon have all bowed to pressure by the US Government to deny services to wikileaks. No charges have been brought aagainst wikileaks. The combination of a corrupt political system and a compliant business sector amounts to fascism in practice where an organisation championing transparency and free speech can be attacked, persecuted and be hindered in its business as a whistleblowing organisation.
Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt also spoke. His electorate covers Assange's most recent Australian address, so he is the Federal representative for Assange. He demanded that the Australian Government pursue US politician Sarah Palin over her threats to the safety of Mr Assange.
Attention was also called to Bradley Manning who is alleged to have been the source of documents given to wikileaks. He is alleged to have used a DVD labelled as Lada Gaga to save and store the diplomatic cables. He is in prison in the U.S. facing an extremely long prison term if found guilty. If he is the whistleblower, he too should be marked as a hero for bringing some transparency to Government communication.
With such a good turn up - organisers estimated over 1000 people - the crowd surged forth upon the suggestion to march to the British consulate in Collins Street. A very vocal and noisy parade down Swanston street amid the tourists, Christmas shoppers and workers trying to get home.
Outside the British consulate a few more people spoke and protesters pledged to gather every Friday in front of the consulate until Mr Assange is released. The mounted police outside the consulate looked both alert and bored by the whole affair. Just another demonstration in Melbourne.
Update: London court grants bail to Assange
A London court has granted bail to wikileaks editor Julian Assange. However, he is still held in custody pending an appeal by prosecutors who have two hours to appeal the decision.
According to a Guardian report Assange's high profile lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, asked the city of Westminster magistrates court in London for bail on the following conditions: £200,000 in security, surety from two people, a curfew, daily reporting to police and surrender of his passport.
The court set bail at £240,000, and strict conditions including that he must wear an electronic tag, live at a registered address, report to police every evening and observe two four-hour curfews each day. The judge gave the prosecution two hours to lodge an appeal. Julian Assange will face a full extradition hearing on the sexual abuse allegations on January 11, 2011.
Film-maker Michael Moore, along with filmmakers Ken Loach and John Pilger and writer Jemima Khan put together the the bail money. You can read Michael Moore's reasons for "Why I'm Posting Bail Money for Julian Assange".
Outside court, 30 protesters gathered but were outnumbered by journalists.
Assange said in a written statement handed to his mother: "My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have expressed. This circumstance shall not shake them. If anything this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct.”
He also targeted the major corporations who have withdrawn financial services to wikileaks: “We now know that Visa, Mastercard, Paypal and others are instruments of US foreign policy,” he said. “It's not something we knew before. I am calling for the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral attacks.”