PI Briefing | No. 8 | Journalism on trial

The US is going after Assange for exposing its war machine.
In the Progressive International's 8th Briefing of 2024, we bring you news from the London High Court where Julian Assange’s extradition case was heard this week. If you would like to receive our Briefing in your inbox, you can sign up using the form at the bottom of this page.
In the Progressive International's 8th Briefing of 2024, we bring you news from the London High Court where Julian Assange’s extradition case was heard this week. If you would like to receive our Briefing in your inbox, you can sign up using the form at the bottom of this page.

As Western powers fuel a genocide in Gaza that has killed scores of journalists and crushed press freedom across Palestine, journalism itself was put on trial this week.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the London High Court sat to hear Julian Assange’s extradition case to the United States. One of the two judges, Justice Jeremy Johnson has been specially vetted by the UK authorities to access top secret information and has represented the UK’s MI6 spy agency and Ministry of Defence.

If extradited, Assange faces 175 years in a supermax prison. His only crime: Wikileaks’ revelation of Western war crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. The High Court’s ruling will not only decide Assange’s freedom. It will also determine the right to know what our governments do in our name. Assange is not on trial alone. Journalism itself is on trial.

On Tuesday, Assange’s defence spoke for his freedom, our right to know and journalists’ right to free speech. They argued that not only is Assange already gravely ill from five years in Belmarsh prison — he broke a rib from just coughing in December and was too sick to attend court even by video link — but he cannot receive a fair trial in the US, given that the CIA planned to assassinate him.

The US case against Assange is, in essence, political. His crusading journalism revealed their crimes and embarrassed their three letter agencies. That’s why he is the first journalist in history to be charged under the US Espionage Act. This alone should nullify the extradition case; political offences are exempt from extradition under the relevant US-UK treaty.

Ironically, given journalism itself was on trial, access to follow proceedings by journalists was extremely restricted. First, access to the live stream was only available to journalists in England and Wales — and then the audio for the live stream was broken. Second, those journalists who made it into the High Court itself had to make do with a “gallery with no tables to take notes or use computers” where they could not “hear or watch the hearing properly at all,” according to Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi.

The hearing ended without a judgement, for which we will likely have to wait weeks. In the meantime, the campaign for Assange’s freedom grows.

The outside of the Court played host to large protests and a throng of international media, where several PI figures and members of the Belmarsh Tribunal spoke to both protestors and media. The speakers, much as the Belmarsh Tribunal has done, described how Julian Assange’s freedom represents freedom of the press, which represents opposition to the war machine.

The Progressive International will fight until it has been dismantled.

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Israeli occupation on trial

The Israeli occupation of Palestine was on trial at the International Court of Justice this week. 52 countries and three international organisations participating in ICJ proceedings, more than in any other case in the court's history since 1946. This case is separate from South Africa’s Genocide Convention case. It follows a request from the UN General Assembly in December 2022 for a legal ruling from the ICJ on Israel’s practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Once more the United States sought to protect Israel in international fora. After vetoing a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on Tuesday, the US took to the ICJ in the Hague to oppose any Court judgement that Israel must withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, citing “very real security needs.”

Lina Attalah released on bail

PI Wire partner Mada Masr Editor-in-Chief Lina Attalah was released on bail on Tuesday after the Cairo Appeals Prosecution questioned her on charges of “publishing false news” and “managing a website without a license,” said the website’s lawyer, Hassan al-Azhari.

The case, still pending further investigation, was opened by the prosecution last year based on a complaint from the state’s media regulator about a report Mada Masr published regarding the potential displacement of Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt.

Attalah was questioned for nearly two hours on Tuesday, in a session attended by Azhari, fellow lawyer Ragia Omran and lawyers from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms and the Journalists Syndicate. Mahmoud Kamel, a member of the syndicate’s council, also attended.

Amazon lobby ban

On Wednesday, after pressure from trade unions and civil society organisations and an official request from legislators, the European Parliament moved one step closer to withdrawing Amazon’s lobbying badges. The so-called “Conference of Presidents”, which unites the leaders of the different political groups in parliament, recommended to the quaestors – another internal body elected to oversee administrative matters affecting lawmakers – to ban Amazon’s representatives. The quaestor’s next meeting is scheduled for next week Tuesday, 27 February, in Strasbourg.

The week before, over 30 trade unions and civil society organisations, including Make Amazon Pay coalition members UNI Europa, Corporate Europe Observatory, SOMO, Berlin vs. Amazon and others, threw their weight behind Members of the European Parliament’s demand to strip Amazon lobbyists of their parliamentary access. In an open letter to European Parliament President Roberta Metsola and the College of Quaestors, they said that “Amazon’s disregard for the EU’s democratic institutions should not allow the company to get off the hook.”

Arrests at Biden HQ

On Monday, 21 young people organised by PI member Sunrise Movement were arrested at Biden’s campaign HQ as they sat in to demand that he declare a climate emergency and stop funding the genocide of Palestinians.

Colombian oil workers back public, clean energy

PI member USO, the Colombian oilworkers’ union, has backed President Gustavo Petro’s vision to transform the state oil company, Ecopetrol, into an engine for public, clean energy. Celebrating the 102nd anniversary of the Barrancabermeja refinery, Colombia’s largest refining industrial complex, the union declared:

“The Workers' Union is ready to join President Gustavo Petro’s proposal to change the [Ecopetrol] management model and be part of its transformation as a public company and leader in energy generation."

"Ecopetrol must be the great national clean energy company and the USO is fully prepared to put its experience, its affiliates and its knowledge to responsibly contribute to the defence of national sovereignty and Ecopetrol.”

This Cannot Be Erased (2022) is a series of digital artworks by Greek artist Miltos Manetas, part of a larger project focusing on Julian Assange as “one of the Internet’s most important figures,” initiated on 23 February 2020. Manetas has created 100’s of artworks in solidarity with Assange, relating his confinement to our own during the pandemic, and painting a portrait of the journalist every day during his imprisonment and giving them away for free. Through creating and disseminating images, artworks and exhibitions of Assange, including at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 2020, and the 7th edition of the Internet Pavilion for the 2022 Venice Biennale, Manetas utilises both the power of the internet and the history of art to assure the story of Assange is not erased, confronting those who “hold a monopoly on our data and information”.

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