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Celebrating Julian Assange's 50th Birthday

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Julian Assange as he left the UK court in a prison van, February 2020 (Screenshot via YouTube)

JULY 3 WILL be the 50th birthday of the great Queensland-born journalist, formerly known as Julian Assange, now known to his gaolers in Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh as prisoner number A9379AY.

Belmarsh is nick-named Hellmarsh — it is Britain’s Guantanamo Bay, the prison for murderers, terrorists and honest Australian journalists. The circumstances of prisoner number A9379AY are not good. He is locked down 23 hours per day in a gaol where COVID-19 is raging, but things could get a lot worse.

The U.S. want to extradite this prisoner for the crime of revealing its war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. These self-declared defenders of a free press intend, with characteristic breath-taking hypocrisy, to reward him for his honest journalism by giving him a new prisoner number and locking him up for 175 years in a U.S. super-maximum prison as their special message to journalists of the world.

Along with members of the Brisbane Assange Network, I am helping organise a 50th birthday celebration for Assange in song, poetry, speech (and cake!) in Queensland's Bunyapa Park, Westend Common, called Let Us Eat Cake! If you can help with song, poetry, speech or cake, we welcome your contribution. *(Date to be advised.)

I want to do this because I want people to hear the truth about our truth-teller. In my view, Julian Assange was the most original and powerful voice in twenty-first-century journalism — the epitome of the muckraking tradition that dares to speak truth to power, as opposed to the mainstream media who exist to be the stenographers and boosters of power.

Having concluded that the corruption of our democracy was due to hidden conspiracies between politicians, powerful corporations and state actors, Assange devised a system to enable whistle-blowers to expose these conspiracies. He founded WikiLeaks, a website designed to enable whistle-blowers to reveal information that governments and corporations tried to hide.

In a few short years, WikiLeaks was handed many of the greatest scoops of the twenty-first century: a cornucopia of exposés that included the Collateral Murder video, the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, and the tranche of diplomatic cables known as Cablegate. The result of his courageous journalism, particularly the Collateral Murder video, has been the decade-long persecution of Assange by the self-proclaimed champions of a free press, the U.S.

Twelve murders are shown in the Collateral Murder video. None of the murderers has been charged, but the whistle-blower and her publisher were hounded, imprisoned and persecuted.

Assange changed journalism with WikiLeaks. The anonymous, secure digital dropbox that Assange pioneered through WikiLeaks has been widely copied by many major corporations, allowing whistle-blowers to transfer information to the public and preserve their anonymity, thus avoiding the remorseless persecution that is all too often their fate. 

With the massive Cablegate files, Assange and WikiLeaks also pioneered analysing large data sets in a collaborative way on a never-before-seen scale with a global coalition of news organisations that included The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde and la Repubblica.

The Walkley Award for ‘outstanding contribution to journalism’ given to Wikileaks in 2011 by a panel comprised of several of Australia’s most distinguished journalists, noted:

This year’s winner has shown a courageous and controversial commitment to the finest traditions of journalism: justice through transparency. WikiLeaks applied new technology to penetrate the inner workings of government to reveal an avalanche of inconvenient truths in a global publishing coup. Its revelations, from the way the war on terror was being waged, to diplomatic bastardry, high-level horse-trading and the interference in the domestic affairs of nations, have had an undeniable impact.

Besides the Walkley, WikiLeaks and Assange have won over a dozen of the most important global journalism awards, bestowed by panels of the most prominent journalists worldwide, all of whom have made similar, glowing endorsements.

Yet the big lie promulgated by the U.S. that Julian Assange is not a journalist persists in the Australian media, especially in that section dominated by a U.S. citizen, Rupert Murdoch, notorious for misusing his media monopoly.

Murdoch's speciality is to control the narrative, so the narrative about Assange was changed from his role as a truth-teller to fit the narrative of the U.S. — that Assange was a traitor to the U.S. (a country of which he is not even a citizen). In the country where he was born, his alleged leaders cravenly cowered to U.S. pressure and the Murdoch media and abandoned this award-winning, world-famous Australian citizen. 

It is a curious fact that Australia gave birth to these two contrasting transformative figures of modern journalism, Assange and Murdoch. It is the great shame of our nation that it participates in the persecution of one and allows its democracy to be manipulated by the other. 

Julian’s bold bid to use journalism to save the world from hidden conspiracies has resulted in his extraordinary punishment — ten years of persecution, containment and silencing, with much more to come. Although scorned in his own country, he has earned planet-wide admiration — a martyr to the truth, transformed into one of the great historical figures of the twenty-first century.

All around the world, people will be celebrating Julian Assange’s 50th birthday on 3 July.

Urge our politicians to bring Julian home!

Let us eat cake!

* This article was originally published with an invitation to a 50th birthday celebration to be held at Queensland's Bunyapa Park, West End, on 3 July. This has been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.                                         

Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.

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