Protesters Gather in Taipei to Condemn US 'Persecution' of Julian Assange

Protesters Gather in Taipei to Condemn US 'Persecution' of Julian Assange
Credit: Jules Quartly
Why you need to know

Activists coalesced outside the American Institute in Taiwan to raise awareness and call for the freedom of the Wikileaks founder.

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In 10 years’ time, Julian Assange could be Australia’s prime minister or a Nobel Peace Prize winner. But now, he is the guest who has outstayed his welcome at the Ecuadorian embassy in London’s Knightsbridge.

That’s the opinion of Canadian Curtis Smith, who, along with activists and leaders from the “third force” Trees Party (樹黨), held a protest against the United States government’s “persecution” of the Wikileaks leader on Sunday, Nov. 4.

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Credit: Jules Quartly
Curtis Smith (L) and Linda Gail Arrigo (R) spoke at the protest.

Held opposite the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) on Taipei’s Xinyi Road, about 60 people turned up, at least half of them security officers or media. “Journalism is not a crime!” was the call to action. The Taipei protest was part of a coordinated worldwide campaign run by Classconscious.org, an unashamedly socialist organization.

“It’s an insane and crazy world where a hero like Julian Assange is held for six years while monsters like Tony Blair, Bush and Cheney walk free,” said Smith, before leading a chant with veteran human rights activist Linda Gail Arrigo (艾琳達): “Free Julian Assange… free Assange, free press… stop persecuting Wikileaks!”

Outside the AIT, a contingent of about 15 to 20 police with riot shields protected the entrance, while plainclothes officers from the Foreign Affairs Police (警政署) mingled with protesters. They warned organizers that any foreigners without permanent Alien Resident Certificates (ARCs) who spoke at the event would be deported for violating immigration laws meant to prevent “outside interests” from influencing domestic politics.

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Credit: Jules Quartly
Police warned foreigners without Alien Residence Certificates (ARCs) not to speak up at the protest.

One of the principal speakers was the former architect Cheng Tzu-tsai (鄭自才), one of two people arrested in New York, in 1970, for trying to shoot former Taiwan president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). Given political asylum in Sweden, he was extradited to the U.S. in 1972.

Cheng outlined the injustice of Assange’s case and drew parallels between his own experiences and those of Assange, saying it was U.S. persecution and a clumsy attempt to clamp down on democratic rights and freedom of information.

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Credit: Jules Quartly
Cheng Tzu-tsai (2nd R) spoke at Sunday's protest.

Trees Party co-founder Pan Han-chiang (潘翰疆) said: “Taiwan is like Canada, a tail of America, and it’s time that the tail stood up and wagged and showed the world that democracy and free speech cannot be stopped.”

Pan said it was important that Chinese speakers were represented in the fight to preserve Assange’s freedom, given that protests on the mainland would not be allowed to go ahead.

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Credit: Jules Quartly
Pan Han-chiang (2nd L) reminded Taiwan that its capacity for free expression is unique in the Chinese-speaking world.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuador embassy for six years because he fears being extradited to the United States, having been accused of sexual offenses in Sweden.

But the crime that has landed him in hot water with the U.S. is telling the truth about “precision” bombings by the U.S. military in Iraq that were killing civilians, including women and children. He was also involved in the release of information about Hillary Clinton’s emails, which may have helped Donald Trump seize the presidency in 2016.

He stands accused of treason, which carries the death penalty.

Through his organization, Wikileaks, Assange has helped publish reams of information provided by whistleblowers such as Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea) that have exposed governments, corporations and their nefarious activities.

The crime that has landed him in hot water with the U.S. is telling the truth about “precision” bombings by the U.S. military in Iraq that were killing civilians, including women and children.

In September it released secret documents from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) showing details of a US$3.6 billion arms deal between France and the United Arab Emirates. This month, it released a map of Amazon’s data centers.

It’s a tough ask to support Assange because he appears to be such an unlikable fellow. He’s the sort of the person you invite into your home because he’s got nowhere else to stay – only to find he won’t leave.

He’s the sort of house guest who skateboards around the living room and kicks footballs against the walls, breaks the mirror and refuses to pay for a replacement. He’s the seven years of bad luck kind of guest who brings in a stray cat, then forgets to feed it, so it tears up the curtains and shits behind the sofa.

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Credit: Reuters / Peter Nicholls
Julian Assange and Ecuadorian embassy officials have quarreled over Assange's alleged neglect of his cat and its litterbox.

Then, when you introduce him to a female acquaintance of yours, who’s suitably impressed by his notoriety and hacking skills, he takes full advantage of the situation, possibly without a condom, possibly when she didn’t want sex. He’s also the sort of guy who runs away when the shit hits the fan.

He doesn’t wash, eats with his fingers, rubs the grease all over his pants and doesn’t change them for weeks. He ends up criticizing his host, despite being given citizenship, provided with a warm bed, three meals a day and sanctuary, while the world’s policemen bay for his blood.

He doesn’t do gratitude, but he does have a well-developed martyrdom complex, probably because he really is being persecuted. And here’s the rub: While he may not be a good house guest, he has an undeniable talent for self-publicity and standing up for what he believes. He has done more for journalism than anyone else in the past decade.

He no doubt thinks he’s a genius and thinks that excuses his minor sins. And he could be right.

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Credit: Reuters / Peter Nicholls
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fields questions from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, May 19, 2017.

In February 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled Assange had been arbitrarily detained by Swedish and authorities from the United Kingdom since 2010, which violated his human, civil and political rights.

Even so, the U.S. is insisting that it is the sole arbiter of justice. After the election of Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Assange’s arrest remained a priority. Furthermore, he may have been secretly indicted, in absentia, by a U.S. grand jury in Virginia.

While he may not be a good house guest, he has an undeniable talent for self-publicity and standing up for what he believes. He has done more for journalism than anyone else in the past decade.

With a change of government in Ecuador, fresh financial inducements have been offered by the Americans to hand over Assange.

As Linda Gail Arrigo put it: “Do the citizens of the world have a right to know what evils their own governments are perpetrating? Should the right to knowledge be upheld, or secrecy and the facades of power that such secrets protect?”

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Credit: Jules Quartly
Linda Gail Arrigo (R) and Cheng Tzu-tsai (C) spoke in support of Assange at Sunday's protest.

This is why she believes Assange’s case is important and why it is essential for people around the world to stand up for press freedoms. “The long reach of U.S. revenge has already been demonstrated in Assange’s eight years of persecution.”

It isn’t a cause that many Taiwanese are aware of, but after Sunday, a few more will know about it. This, Arrigo said, was the aim of the protest.

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Credit: Jules Quartly
Protest organizers hoped to attract Taiwanese media and raise awareness of Assange's case.

Read Next: OPINION: Taiwan's 'Third Force' Parties Must Avoid a Rightward Shift

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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