On Monday this week I went to HMP Belmarsh maximum security prison in Plumstead, south east London, SE28. Belmarsh, sometimes called Britain’s Guantanamo, is where founder of Wikileaks and award-winning journalist Julian Assange is incarcerated.
Julian is in prison for doing what good journalists are (not) supposed to do – tell the truth and expose high crimes and misdemeanours committed by the ruling class. The startling and shocking revelations of the abuses committed by the governments of powerful countries include the Afghan war leaks, Cablegate, corruption in Kenya, the Guantanamo Bay files leak and perhaps most famous of all the `Collateral murder` video of the July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrike which shows an American Apache helicopter gunship attacking a group of people including two Reuter’s journalists and laughing as they killed them.
He had been given asylum by the government of Ecuador in June 2012, but this was withdrawn in April 2019 when he was dragged out by London Metropolitan police and has since been held in Belmarsh on a charge of breaching bail.
Leading QC Geoffrey Robertson whose chambers represent Julian has said that breach of bail is usually considered a minor offence punishable by a fine or a few weeks in prison. A sentence of almost a year in a high security prison is Draconian to say the least.
Confined to his cell for 23 hours a day he has no Internet access and only very limited telephone access. His treatment should be considered outrageous.
On 2 May 2019, a first hearing was held in London into the United States request for Julian’s extradition. The hearing in Westminster Magistrates’ Court drew a protest of hundreds and half the world’s media were there. When asked (on video link) by the judge whether he consented to the extradition, Assange replied: “I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many, many awards and protected many people.”
I had hoped to meet Brisbane born peace campaigner Ciaron O’Reilly outside the prison. He had been maintaining a vigil for Julian outside the jail for several months but he was slapped by ASBOs (Anti-Social behaviour orders) by the local council and he seems to have been moved on. Ciaron is famous for disabling a US warplane, a B52 bomber, during the first gulf war of 1991. He was also involved in disabling a US navy warplane in Shannon airport, Ireland in 2003 and was later acquitted by an Irish court.
I had optimistically hoped to get a chance to visit Julian but visits have to be booked and in any case, there are no visits on a Monday.
On a warm, humid day in London I sat on a wooden bench outside the prison and swallowed my disappointment at not seeing either Ciaron or Julian. I was not more than about 100 yards away from Julian. Still, think how he would like to swap places with me. I was able to head back to my room in Croydon where I have access to both the phone and the Internet.
The old theme song of the Australian prison show `Prisoner` called `Prisoner cell block H` in Britain ran through my head –
On the inside the roses grow,
They don’t mind the stoney ground,
But the roses here are prisoners too,
When morning comes around.
Julian Assange is a good man like Ciaron O’Reilly. He needs our support and help.
You could write to him at the following address:
DOB 3rd July 1971
HMP Belmarsh Prison
London, SE28 0EB
NB – You have to put your name and address on the back otherwise they won’t let him have the letter. You can’t send postcards and he’s not allowed to be sent newspapers or magazines. Remember that all incoming and outgoing mail is read and it may take some time to get a reply.
Justice for Julian!