While Julian Assange remains unable to contact the outside world from the Ecuadorian embassy amidst the silence imposed by the Ecuadorian government, a heroic group of activists has been continually standing in solidarity with Assange. The vigils did not begin when Assange’s internet was cut, as they have been participating in such events outside the embassy since Assange sought asylum there in 2012. However, since Assange’s access to internet was cut off, the vigils have gone on virtually non-stop.
Disobedient Media sought out these selfless, courageous activists to get their perspective on what solidarity with Wikileaks really means. We were honored to speak with Assange supporter Emmy Butlin, and long-time anti-war protestor, Ciaron O’Reilly. When this writer asked Butlin for background information regarding their efforts, she directed me to WiseupAction.info. The site provides valuable information on the history of support in the UK for Assange and Chelsea Manning.
Disobedient Media spoke with Ciaron O’Reilly, who is a long-term anti-war activist and Wikileaks supporter. He told Disobedient Media about his background in activism and the beginnings of his support for Assange:
“I’m a long time activist & organizer with the Anarcho-Pacifist Catholic Worker Movement founded by Dorothy Day. I was mentored by radical priests Dan & Phil Berrigan while living in [the] U.S. I was jailed with three others for disabling a B52 Bomber at [Griffiss] Air Force Base in upstate New York on the eve of the first Gulf War. I served 13 months jail in Texas & Louisiana then deported back to Australia.
He described the hypocrisy of the lack of support for Assange from Western humanitarian NGOs:
“I have experienced detention in England, Australia, and Ireland under counter-terrorist legislation for anti-war activity. There is presently an inquiry into British Special Branch hacking my and nine other people’s emails. Public response [to the vigils] ranges from support to cynicism. The Guardian newspaper has run a constant character assassination of Julian since 2010; this undercuts the liberal left support which would have otherwise flowed his way. Organizations such as Amnesty International, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Stop the War etc. who benefited from the work of Julian, Chelsea & WikiLeaks abandoned them once they were targeted by the state.”
O’Reilly described the group of activists who regularly attend the vigils, and gave his thoughts on what people who support Assange but cannot travel to the UK to express solidarity in person can do to help, emphasizing the value of creativity and nonviolence:
“The vigil group is small and dedicated… We have done lots of solidarity gigs for Chelsea Manning, Chelsea’s mum and family In Dublin and Wales with speakers and music. Building a broader community of solidarity. Nonviolent interventions, I recently confronted British Foreign Affairs Minister Boris Johnson in Dublin over the detention of Julian. Nonviolent creative tension is what is needed.“
O’Reilly’s description of creative, nonviolent but direct intervention on behalf of Assange is something to keep in mind, especially in light of the continual questions in response to Assange’s current situation that express a sense of powerlessness and even hopelessness. O’Reilly further advised Assange and Wikileaks supporters to: “Read up and plagiarize from solidarity campaigns in the history of the U.S. All power to the imagination.”
When asked to describe the amount of time spent by himself and other members of the solidarity group in vigils with Assange, O’Reilly responded: “It’s been a lot [of time]. But the time and discomfort are pretty minimal in the context of what Julian has been through. As the IWW used to say “He’s in there for us, We’re out here for him!”
In response to those who often respond to reports of the human rights abuses suffered by Julian Assange, by attempting to snidely claim Assange is ‘free to leave the embassy whenever he pleases, O’Reilly told Disobedient Media:
“That cynical assessment is from someone who has never been detained in their lives. It speaks of an ignorance born of privilege. I’ve spent roughly two years in various prisons, and I have also been detained by the state without walls or fences. Detention is when those in power draw a line and threaten you with worse to come if you cross it. I think Julian is the person in human history who has exposed and pissed off the MOST amount of powerful people in the SHORTEST amount of time. They have a lot of pain planned for him, if they ever get their hands on him.”
Earlier today, O’Reilly also described a compelling interaction via Twitter, writing: “… From Julian #Assange solidarity vigil outside the Ecuadorian embassy London. I was talking to a guy at the vigil yesterday who had been detained & tortured in #Guantanamo. He was very thankful for the work of #WikiLeaks & Julian in exposing torture. #ReconnectJulian”
Emmy Butlin’s Youtube channel highlights a vigil held outside the Ecuadorian embassy on March 28, where Ciaron O’Reilly is seen describing the enormous length of time spent by WikiLeaks’ Editor-In-Chief in arbitrary confinement, as well as the fact that Assange’s internet had been cut. During the clip, O’Reilly addresses the fact that if Julian Assange steps outside the embassy he will be arrested. O’Reilly praises the Ecuadorian government for providing sanctuary to Assange, who Ciaron characterizes as a political dissident whose life is threatened by the United States.
He said: “One can only imagine the pressures put on their government, that they would take such an action, to cut the internet off. Also, the banning at the moment of visitors is a terrible thing. I was a prisoner for about two years, but… I always had access to visitors, so this is pretty outrageous that Julian has been denied visitors at this stage.” O’Reilly also commented on the irony of the timing of Assange being cut off from the outside world, which happened to coincide with the Easter holiday.
The full clip is available below, courtesy of Emmy Butlin:
Disobedient Media also spoke with Emmy Butlin, who was also a participant in the recent ten-hour online vigil to ReconnectJulian. She told this writer:
“The solidarity vigil is exactly that and can be referred to exactly that. Some core vigil people, we have formed the Julian Assange Defence Committee (JADC), but we include everyone who wishes to be involved. We collect e-mail addresses from passers-by who like to be informed of actions in the London area: we e-mail newsletter about once a month, repeat the Vigil callouts that we put up on WiseUp.info and share the reports on actions again that are put up on the blog. The WiseUp.info blog is a repository of information in support of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. Because of her happy release last year the number of actions have stopped. Various people are involved some of whom participate in the vigil, some not due to living far away.”
Emmy described the mind-boggling cost of policing Assange during his arbitrary detention in the embassy. She described how the cost of policing was extremely high in 2014, and by 2015 the cost was made classified. She said: “The moment they removed the uniform police in October 2015 they classified the spending as it is covert surveillance and they do not wish to give away operational matters apparently.”
Emmy attempted to to reverse and address the move by writing to the relevant UK officials in the London Assembly. Though her questions on the cost of police operations at the embassy went unanswered, the letter embodies the spirit and initiative of those activists who regularly attend vigils in support of Assange’s freedom at the Ecuadorian embassy.
When Disobedient Media inquired as to the methods by which the public could financially support the London vigil group’s efforts, Emmy told this writer: “We have never crowdsourced or fundraised, neither we have received any funds from anyone else.” This lack of external funding speaks yet again to the selflessness of those who stand in solidarity with Julian Assange year in, year out at the Ecuadorian embassy. In the same vein, when this author mentioned the view that the group were real-life heroes, Emmy responded: “Simple people, just simple and ordinary… most of us are just very ordinary.”
If there is one thing to learn from speaking with Butlin and O’Reilly, it is that each and every person is capable of making a real positive difference in fighting for Wikileaks, Assange, and other human rights issues. As O’Reilly told Disobedient Media, creativity and imagination are everything.
No one can say when Julian Assange’s basic human right to freedom of speech will be returned to him. However, we can confidently predict that the continued support of a small but intrepid group of activists standing in solidarity with Julian outside the embassy will not waiver any time soon.