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While, due to his unwavering dedication and stamina, readers of Craig Murray’s Blog have been kept reasonably well informed about the salient points pertaining to the Assange extradition hearing, a Canary Article has just filled in the gaps with an account of the extraordinary efforts taken to exclude external observation. The article entitled, “Journalism on trial: an eyewitness account of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing” truly puts our country to dire shame with regard to Human Rights and Justice denied. If a ‘Kangaroo Court’ of such extreme injustice succeeds in ramming through the extradition of Julian Assange this radically unlawful overreach of extensive US power will effectively have managed to set several other extremely dangerous precedents. Not only is Journalism itself on trail with freedom of the press in peril globally, Whistleblowers will be in mortal danger as their Human Rights being abolished, but also the UK Justice system will be so deeply corrupted that we will regress into a prior century of barbarism.
The Canary start out by relaying the gist of what this crucial hearing is all about reporting that, “Throughout Septembe, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been the subject of a major extradition hearing in the Old Bailey Criminal Court, London. Assange is accused of violating the US Espionage Act on 17 counts and of one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. This would be the first time that a US or extraterritorial publisher is indicted under the Espionage Act for the publication of official secrets. If extradited, and later convicted, Assange could serve up to 175 years in prison.” They reveal that, “The Canary was in the Old Bailey for the final days of the most important press freedom case in recent history” and describe the proceedings as, “the most closed open court imaginable” focusing the remainder of their shocking article on the exceptional lengths to which the Court System and the presiding Judge were prepared to go in order to hide this excessive injustice from public scrutiny.
The Canary report that, “After two days in the public gallery of the Old Bailey, it was possible to compile a full page of concerns regarding access to the court. It was, without exaggeration, perhaps the most closed open court imaginable. The public gallery was in a courtroom adjacent to where the hearing was taking place. Only five people were permitted access, meaning the public was effectively removed from observing the proceedings.” This is not the first and it certainly won’t be the last time that the Pandemic is manipulated as an excuse to curtail civil liberties and promote injustice in a way that makes no logical sense. “The five-person limit was apparently due to coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions. For the most part, however, social distancing was not enforced once inside. In any case, the public gallery had 33 seats, making the limit of five seem needlessly restrictive and arbitrary.” They note other equally absurd restrictions: “No phone, no laptop, no water permitted inside, and nowhere inside the building to leave them.”
The Canary revealed that, “This, however, was a drastic improvement on the first week of the hearing, during which only two people could access the public gallery. The remaining seats were for ‘VIPs’, whose identities were at the time unknown, and who never turned up. The seats were thus left vacant. The public gallery itself was farcical. The proceedings were shown on a small television screen mounted to a wall some 20 feet away. It was often difficult to tell who was speaking. The camera didn’t capture the entire court, so a large part of the room was out of shot. This included the thick glass box inside which Assange was sitting. For independent court monitors, this was particularly concerning given they were unable to tell whether Assange could adequately follow the proceedings. In a preliminary hearing in February, Assange had complained: ‘I am as much a participant in these proceedings as I am watching Wimbledon. I cannot meaningfully communicate with my lawyers’.”
According to the Canary, “When Assange did appear on screen, he looked tired and dejected. For the past month, he has been woken up at 5am in his cell at Belmarsh maximum security prison. He’s then strip-searched and transported to the Old Bailey in a van, which his partner Stella Morris has described as an ‘upended coffin’.” Craig Murray has also remarked on what appeared to be a deliberate barrier to allowing Assange access to his Lawyers during the proceedings and his difficulty even hearing what was going on. On a couple of occasions Craig documented an outburst from Julian as he endured the torment of witnessing the injustice of the proceedings and the Judges biased rulings. He was threatened with removal, but his most notable outburst was when Judge Baraitser wanted to sideline the testimony of a torture victim. Assange, risking being removed from the Court, could not contain his outrage and blurted out, “I will not permit the testimony of a torture victim to be censored by this Court!”
The Canary describe a litany of unnecessary impediments to basic observation of the hearing that collectively seem quite bizarre, “A television on wheels sat under the mounted television in the public gallery, but it was inexplicably never used to accommodate public viewing. Meanwhile, the audio was at times so poor or muffled that it was impossible to make out what was being said. This, again, was an improvement on weeks prior. Those who spent time in the public gallery during the first weeks of the hearing faced numerous obstacles to monitoring the case. These included bitter temperatures, a loud buzzing noise coming from an overhead light, and consistent technical difficulties. At times, the court’s security staff failed to inform those waiting outside that proceedings had begun, so the public gallery remained empty. This, of course, begs the question: if a limited selection of the public could watch the hearing via video link from inside the court, why couldn’t the wider public do so from outside?”
The Canary document the exclusion and the ridiculous justifications given for such restrictions saying, “Magistrate judge Vanessa Baraitser objected to remote viewing ‘in the interests of justice’ since, unlike in a court, she could not control the behaviour of outside observers. This has no basis in reality: the behaviour of those remote to the court would have precisely zero impact on events inside the court.” Even more concerning they report that, “Just as the public was arbitrarily shut out, Baraitser also revoked remote access for some 40 legal observers including representatives from Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders. Remote access, claimed Baraitser on the first day of the hearing, would compromise ‘the integrity of the court’; it had been granted ‘in error’.” I have to wonder if such a ruling would ever have been made in any case in the recent past as this could mark another dangerous precedent in the disgraceful erosion of British Justice.
The Canary say, “Reflecting on these conditions, Rebecca Vincent of Reporters Without Borders declared: I am not exaggerating when I say I have felt more welcome, respected, and able to do my job as an NGO observer in more professional conditions at a prison campus in Turkey than I have at Woolwich Crown Court or the Old Bailey Court in London. I am embarrassed for my country. Vincent later told The Canary: This case has been by far the most difficult to monitor of any case that I’ve ever monitored in any country… Ultimately it started with the judge refusing to recognise or accommodate the role of professional NGO observers as any different from the public. From the start, we were left to compete for extremely few places in the public gallery. If democracy has to be seen to be demonstrated, we are in a very sorry, worrying place indeed. In the words of John Pilger, what happened in the Old Bailey over the past month was not an example of due process – it was ‘due revenge’.”
The Canary report, “On the morning of 30 September, the court heard that US officials considered ‘kidnapping or even poisoning’ Assange while he was stationed in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. It also heard that privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers were spied on by UC Global. UC Global is a private Spanish security firm which collaborated with US intelligence services. In any normal hearing, this could have sufficed to have the case thrown out. When Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, CIA agents broke into his psychiatrist’s office and stole privileged files. They did this in the hope of finding information they could use against Ellsberg. Once this was known, Ellsberg’s case was thrown out of court. However, evidence of individuals plotting to poison or kidnap Assange was read into the hearing as if the case revolved around a parking ticket. There was no cross-examination of witnesses nor testing of the evidence. It simply dissolved into thin air.”
Reporting on one of the most shocking revelations exposed during the hearing the Canary journalist was stunned by how it was received by the Judge. They note that, “Former consul to the Ecuadorian embassy in London Fidel Narvaez spoke with The Canary about the evidence of spying: This invalidates any judicial case, because there is no way that a person who was being spied on in his private conversations with his lawyers – talking about his legal strategies, documentation from the lawyers were stolen, their electronic devices were spied on – there’s no way that Julian Assange is going to have a just case in the United States. So that should be enough reason not to extradite him.” Even if the Judge rules in favour of extradition this could and certainly should be blocked by our Home Secretary on these grounds, but right now that duty remains in the hands of rabid Tory Priti Patel who will undoubtedly seek to support the US Military Industrial complex: Assange desperately needs our protests!
The Canary describe, “A chillingly casual conclusion,” saying, “Over the final days of the hearing, the defence also noted the public importance of WikiLeaks revelations of torture in Guantanamo Bay and extrajudicial drone strike killings in Pakistan. In the face of overwhelming documentation of official crimes and wrongdoing, the judge plainly looked bored. Other witness testimonies, which might have taken a day of examination, were rushed through in less than half an hour. Noam Chomsky’s historic testimony was delivered, without discussion, in just four minutes.” Craig Murray has printed Chomsky’s witness statement in its entirety as part of his daily reporting of this case on Day 21. The Canary remark on the attitude of the Judge, “Is there anything else I need to receive or hear about?’, Baraitser asked on the afternoon of Thursday 1 October. She appeared eager to wrap the whole thing up.”
The Canary report that, “The defence requested time before issuing closing statements, partly because it remained unclear – after four weeks of proceedings – what the full nature of the charges against Assange were. At the eleventh hour before the hearing began, the prosecution had issued a second superseding indictment, for which the defence was given no time to prepare. Court adjourned at 4:25pm, less than two hours after opening. It was a chillingly casual conclusion to a case of such magnitude.” These superseding indictments were an intentional attempt to torpedo the case as is painfully apparent from reading Craig Murray’s account of the proceedings. The Canary note that, “It is ironic that the court seemed to go to such lengths to prevent public access, given the corporate media barely seemed to care about the case anyway. The lack of media presence both outside and inside the Old Bailey was remarkable. The press annex was not at capacity – at times, it was half-empty.”
The Canary single out one paper for additional criticism saying, “The Guardian requires particular scrutiny given the prosecution has relied on past statements of former and current Guardian employees as evidence for extradition. Throughout September, the Guardian published just 11 articles on the Assange extradition hearing. During July, the Guardian published 33 articles on Johnny Depp’s libel case – more than one per day. Showbiz, it seems, is three times more important than the fate of journalism itself. Alan MacLeod, writing for FAIR, said the Times, Le Monde, CNN, CBS, AP, AFP, and MSNBC also offered meagre coverage of Assange’s hearing. Journalist Glenn Greenwald concurred that: media outlets, including by the way the Intercept, have completely ignored these proceedings… Basically, we’re relying on kind of independent bloggers to do it.”
The BBC were equally derelict in their duty to inform the public. The Canary say, “Meanwhile, Daniel Sandford, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, suggested on Twitter that he found the hearing tedious. On 29 September, he claimed that “I have been in a few hearings, and it is slightly repetitive at the moment”: It’s a pity this BBC correspondent grew tired of observing a foreign power persecute a UK-based journalist for revealing war crimes. Indeed, the BBC News Twitter account has not bothered to mention Assange since 7 September – the first day of the hearing. Vincent responded frankly to Sandford: I find this disappointing, Daniel. Repetitive or not, the public needs to know what is happening in these proceedings.”
The Canary offer a pertinent quote from the author of this site, “Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, concluded that: ‘The plan of the US Government throughout has been to limit the information available to the public and limit the effective access to a wider public of what information is available. Thus we have seen the extreme restrictions on both physical and video access. A complicit mainstream media has ensured those of us who know what is happening are very few in the wider population’.”
The Canary describe how, “The process is the punishment,” saying, “Whether Assange is extradited or not (and it’s crucial to the future of journalism that he isn’t), his treatment over the past decade – at the hands of the UK, US, Swedish, and Ecuadorian governments – will have a chilling effect on journalism. Assange has suffered solitary confinement, degrading treatment and, according to UN expert on torture Nils Melzer, psychological torture. All without being convicted of any crime. Journalists in possession of US classified documents may look to Assange and worry that their lives will be destroyed should they reveal information that is clearly in the public interest.The process, in other words, is the punishment. Even if Assange wins his battle against extradition, he has already lost many years of his life to arbitrary, cynical punishment.”
“As clinical psychiatrist Lissa Johnson told The Canary: ‘Julian Assange’s extradition hearing has served as a vehicle through which to extend and exacerbate his psychological torture, through abuse of his fundamental human rights. That abuse has been so significant that the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute has issued a statement saying that Julian Assange’s treatment has been reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal’.” The Canary insists that, “The fight must continue,” They report that, “The judge will make her decision on 4 January 2021. It’s a verdict which will have tremendous and historic ramifications for the future of journalism. As WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson announced outside the Old Bailey: we cannot change the past, but we need the truth about the past. And we can also change the fate of Julian Assange. The fight must continue – first for Assange’s freedom, and then for prosecuting the criminals that he exposed.”
In his most recent Blog post on, “How a police state starts,” Craig Murray documents the latest repression to quell protest over the Julian Assange case. He writes that, “On Saturday a small, socially distanced vigil of 18 people for Julian Assange at Piccadilly Circus was broken up by twice that number of police and one elderly man arrested and taken into custody. The little group of activists have been holding the vigil every week. I had just arrived to thank them and was astonished to see eight police vans and this utterly unnecessary police action. There could not be a clearer example of ‘Covid legislation’ being used to crack down on unrelated, entirely peaceful political dissent.” Craig was questioned by police and later on he was disturbed in his hotel room in the middle of the night by someone he did not recognize as one of the hotel staff asking him when he was leaving; an inexplicable intrusion that he believes was unjustified harassment connected to the details he gave to police.
Consortium News have posted the Video of the RT interview with John Pilger entitled, “The Hell That WikiLeaks Exposed Is Now Being Imposed on Assange.” John Pilger, the legendary journalist and filmmaker, who attended the Assange hearing, spoke to Afshin Rattansi on the RT show “Going Underground.” A Consortium News Interview with John Pilger entitled, “Eyewitness to the Agony of Julian Assange,” the veteran Investigative Journalist exposes the ill treatment of Assange here in the UK. They say, “John Pilger has watched Julian Assange’s extradition trial from the public gallery at London’s Old Bailey. He spoke with Timothy Erik Ström of Arena magazine, Australia.” Ström asks, “Having watched Julian Assange’s trial firsthand, can you describe the prevailing atmosphere in the court?”
Pilger replies, “The prevailing atmosphere has been shocking. I say that without hesitation; I have sat in many courts and seldom known such a corruption of due process; this is due revenge. Putting aside the ritual associated with ‘British justice’, at times it has been evocative of a Stalinist show trial. One difference is that in the show trials, the defendant stood in the court proper. In the Assange trial, the defendant was caged behind thick glass, and had to crawl on his knees to a slit in the glass, overseen by his guard, to make contact with his lawyers. His message, whispered barely audibly through face masks, WAS then passed by post-it the length of the court to where his barristers were arguing the case against his extradition to an American hellhole. Consider this daily routine of Julian Assange, an Australian on trial for truth-telling journalism. He was woken at five o’clock in his cell at Belmarsh prison in the bleak southern sprawl of London.”
Pilger continues, “The first time I saw Julian in Belmarsh, having passed through half an hour of ‘security’ checks, including a dog’s snout in my rear, I found a painfully thin figure sitting alone wearing a yellow armband. He had lost more than 10 kilos in a matter of months; his arms had no muscle. His first words were: ‘I think I am losing my mind’. I tried to assure him he wasn’t. His resilience and courage are formidable, but there is a limit. That was more than a year ago. In the past three weeks, in the pre-dawn, he was strip-searched, shackled, and prepared for transport to the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, in a truck that his partner, Stella Moris, described as an upended coffin. It had one small window; he had to stand precariously to look out. The truck and its guards were operated by Serco, one of many politically connected companies that run much of Boris Johnson’s Britain. The journey to the Old Bailey took at least an hour and a half. That’s a minimum of three hours being jolted through snail-like traffic every day.”
Pilger describes how, “He was led into his narrow cage at the back of the court, then look up, blinking, trying to make out faces in the public gallery through the reflection of the glass. He saw the courtly figure of his dad, John Shipton, and me, and our fists went up. Through the glass, he reached out to touch fingers with Stella, who is a lawyer and seated in the body of the court. We were here for the ultimate of what the philosopher Guy Debord called The Society of the Spectacle: a man fighting for his life. Yet his crime is to have performed an epic public service: revealing that which we have a right to know: the lies of our governments and the crimes they commit in our name. His creation of WikiLeaks and its failsafe protection of sources revolutionised journalism, restoring it to the vision of its idealists. Edmund Burke’s notion of free journalism as a fourth estate is now a fifth estate that shines a light on those who diminish the very meaning of democracy with their criminal secrecy. That’s why his punishment is so extreme.”
Pilger continued, “The sheer bias in the courts I have sat in this year and last year, with Julian in the dock, blight any notion of British justice. When thuggish police dragged him from his asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy—look closely at the photo and you’ll see he is clutching a Gore Vidal book; Assange has a political humour similar to Vidal’s—a judge gave him an outrageous 50-week sentence in a maximum-security prison for mere bail infringement. For months, he was denied exercise and held in solitary confinement disguised as ‘heath care’. He once told me he strode the length of his cell, back and forth, back and forth, for his own half-marathon. In the next cell, the occupant screamed through the night. At first he was denied his reading glasses, left behind in the embassy brutality.” He said, “Books sent to him by a friend, the journalist Charles Glass, himself a survivor of hostage-taking in Beirut, were returned.” He added, “The governor of Belmarsh has been awarded the Order of the British Empire.”
Consortium News report that, “There are few records of the proceedings. They are: Craig Murray’s personal blog, Joe Lauria’s live reporting on Consortium News, and the World Socialist Website. American journalist Kevin Gosztola’s blog, Shadowproof, funded mostly by himself, has reported more of the trial than the major US press and TV, including CNN, combined.” Pilger commented that, “The dissident artist Ai Weiwei came to join us one morning in the public gallery. He noted that in China the judge’s decision would already have been made. This caused some dark ironic amusement. My companion in the gallery, the astute diarist and former British ambassador Craig Murray wrote: ‘I fear that all over London a very hard rain is now falling on those who for a lifetime have worked within institutions of liberal democracy that at least broadly and usually used to operate within the governance of their own professed principles.”
Of the trial Murray wrote, “It has been clear to me from Day 1 that I am watching a charade unfold. It is not in the least a shock to me that Baraitser does not think anything beyond the written opening arguments has any effect. I have again and again reported to you that, where rulings have to be made, she has brought them into court pre-written, before hearing the arguments before her. I strongly expect the final decision was made in this case even before opening arguments were received. The plan of the US Government throughout has been to limit the information available to the public and limit the effective access to a wider public of what information is available. Thus we have seen the extreme restrictions on both physical and video access. A complicit mainstream media has ensured those of us who know what is happening are very few in the wider population.”
It is our duty to ‘megaphone’ the truth of this grotesque that the state wants to keep under wraps. There was sound reasoning behind Assange risking being thrown out of Court for his impactful outburst, “I will not permit the testimony of a torture victim to be censored by this Court!” Assange knew that if Judge Baraitser removed him from the Court it would create an ‘incident’ and that stark punctuation within the proceedings would at least be noted by the appallingly apathetic press. Julian picked his battle wisely because his knew that the sidelining of testimony from a torture victim epitomized the cruellest injustice secretly perpetrated by the US and the most vital mission of WikiLeaks to expose the horrific truth. Assange was not prepared to ignore the evidence of US extraordinary rendition, torture and casual slaughter of innocent civilians go unreported and he will pay a massive price for his Journalistic courage in this British Kangaroo Court and in an American Supermax jail if he is unjustly extradited to the US!
I have said this before and feel compelled to repeat it yet again here, as strongly as we all feel about this case it remains one of the collective injustices perpetrated by a thoroughly corrupt Tory Government that seized power in the Covert 2019 Rigged Election.
We cannot give up the fight as too much is at stake, including the fate of Julian Assange that would have been radically different under a Corbyn led Government; I worry that Keir Starmer would readily do the US bidding. Within Craig Murray’s coverage of the extradition hearing, I was interested to read about secure drop boxes for Whistleblowers as used by many Journalistic outlets as I now think it would be worth setting up a secure drop box dedicated to exposing Tory Government leaks on the rigged vote and the relentless massive misappropriation of public funds. Anyone who knows how to do this and can rope in an Investigative Journalist in case evidence is forthcoming, please elaborate on how this is accomplished and who might be interested in getting involved.
We cannot allow Covid 19 restrictions to extinguish all protest; we must be creative and find another way. I have suggested weekly noise making protests outside our homes confined to our groups of six or less in a similar way to the way in which “Clap for Carers” captured the imagination and frustration of the entire nation. A ‘Sound of Saturday at Six’ protest would not violate any restrictions or risk arrest plus people could video their demo to post online. If we can prove the Covert 2019 Rigged Election was corrupt and an Investigation proves that the result invalid, we would have more cause to appeal to the EU for intervention than Belarus! As a former Whistleblower myself Julian’s fate is one of the many things I care passionately about, but I fear that none of our most serious concerns will have a just outcome without removing this Tory Government from office. We on a dangerous path to Dictatorship; I feel powerless to help Julian Assange in any other way than my efforts to dislodge this corrupt Tory Government.
DO NOT MOVE ON!