By: Jit Ping Lee
Members of the Boston Area Assange Defense held their “Rally for Julian Assange” Monday afternoon at the Boston Common. Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks — a site where anonymous whistleblowers can share classified documents.
Assange is wanted by the U.S. government for charges of espionage and computer misuse, after publishing sensitive military and diplomatic documents leaked by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning concerning the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Assange is currently housed at a maximum-security prison in London, pending the outcome of an extradition request back to the United States.
The organizers of the rally collected signatures and letters to petition Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and called on Attorney-General of the United States Merrick Garland to drop charges against Assange. The Boston chapter is one of several across the United States and world.
The movement is supported by the Courage Foundation, which works to provide legal aid to individuals who “risk life or liberty to make significant contributions to the historical record.”
While motivations for calling for Assange’s release differ, they largely center around Assange’s alleged mistreatment in prison and the protection of the First amendment.
Paula Iasella, an organizer of the event, said some people still support Assange’s case even though they don’t “care much about Julian Assange … but they care about the first amendment,” impacting the strategy the movement takes.
“If you care about human rights, if you care about the First Amendment, you should care about Julian Assange,” Iasella said. “That’s what it comes down to. For me, it’s both.”
Iasella will be demonstrating in front of Merrick Garland’s residence in Maryland, as Assange Defense members attempt to apply public pressure on state and federal politicians.
However, organizers lament that neither the Biden administration nor the Justice Department is willing to comment on actions taken.
“Nobody wants to own it,” Iasella said.
President Joe Biden’s administration is the third to handle the prosecution of Julian Assange. When asked to comment on whether they think this has had a significant impact in the way legal proceedings are being managed, the group appeared pessimistic.
“When Julian won his case in January 4 [against extradition] we said, ‘Well that’s a good time for the Biden administration to back out of it gracefully’… but the Biden administration kept the appeal [initiated by the outgoing Trump administration] going,” Iasella said.
At the event, there was a steady stream of people who passed by the booth set up by the organizers.
However, interest in the rally was generally low, with onlookers who did stay remarking that they know relatively little or nothing about Julian Assange. Organizers blame the lack of knowledge about the issue on what they see as a low media coverage of Assange’s court cases.
“It was five weeks, it was not reported by mainstream media at all,” Iasella said. “It was live-tweeted by 12 journalists and for five weeks those journalists wrote a thread of tweets informing us of what was said in the court.”
Organizers were hence greatly thankful that Newsweek, a mainstream news site, recently picked up an article written by Daniel Ellsberg, Alice Walker and Noam Chomsky.
“Hopefully, it will be the beginning of other press outlets starting to talk about it,” Susan McLucas, political activist and member of the Boston Area Assange Defense, said.
Local Daniel Kontoff, who runs a program providing food for displaced individuals, spoke in support of Assange.
“In this world today if you do the right thing, you end up in jail,” Kontoff said. “That’s not the kind of country we want.”
Members of the movement await the outcome of an appeal by the United States government against the decision of the United Kingdom courts not to extradite Julian Assange Oct. 27 and Oct. 28.
McLucas seemed resigned to the prospect of a successful appeal by the United States.
“They just have to do the right thing,” McLucas said.