John Shipton, Julian Assange’s father, has come to stay. At least until his son gets free. The day after his speech at the Brandenburg Gate and in front of the American Embassy at the #Candles4Assange vigil, we met Shipton for a longer conversation.
He seems almost fragile with his gentleness and modesty, besides a fine sense of humor, you immediately feel a great determination and confidence in him, despite everything. There is no question who Assange looks up.
John has come to Europe as an ambassador for his son Julian and is campaigning for understanding and support at every opportunity.
In cooperation, Weltnetz.tv and Pressenza present this touching interview.
Pressenza: John, it is so good to have you here in Berlin, thank you for the interview. Yesterday you attended the weekly solidarity action, #candles, for a source, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, next to the American Embassy and also very close to the British one. How was this for you?
John Shipton: This occasion was very special, particularly as the action for a vigil for Julian Assange was in front of the Brandenburg Gate. It was very moving and the images travel around the world and make a very strong impression upon people who support and those who may support in the future.
P: Right, we need some really strong images also to put pressure on the Court and you are actually making quite a tour in Europe right now, you are coming from London, right?
JS: Yes, yes, I’ve become an ambassador for Julian and wherever I go I talk to people like we are today and generate understanding and support for Julian and unify the vast number of supporters, so that we can have pressure upon governments in a pointed way, in a firm pointed way, rather than groups doing a little bit here and a little bit there, it will marshal all of these supporters together, to ensure that the Julian is freed from detention in the UK. I’d like to add that there were three mirror events of the vigil last night at Brandenburg Gate, so there was one in Düsseldorf which was successful, then one in Frankfurt was equally successful, one in Cologne, so last night there were four vigils for Assange.
P: When did you talk last time to Julian?
JS: I saw Julian the day before yesterday in the afternoon, the visiting hours of 2:00 to 4:00. For the last 50 weeks, Julian was allowed two social visits per month of two hours linked. As you can imagine those visits are really precious, as the balance of the time 22 hours per day Julian spends in confinement in his cell, a solitary confinement. This is a punishment upon punishment upon punishment, for a man who has committed no crime whatsoever.
P: And how is he holding up, I mean, how he deals with this isolation, which now is much worse, but it goes on for years…
JS: Well, I don’t know, I don’t know how he manages. It’s extraordinary that he ran such powerful campaigns for WikiLeaks and, at the same time, was isolated completely from human discourse. Though it’s extraordinary. Nils Mezler of the UN Rapporteur on torture visited Julian with two medical experts in Belmarsh prison. I just said that Belmarsh prison is a maximum-security prison and Julian is a great big prisoner in a maximum-security prison, for a man who hasn’t hurt anybody and has created no offence to any human being, no physical offence and he’s a gentle nature, but a very strong integrity and intellect. This is cruelty stacked on cruelty, but Nils Mills said that Julian, which shows all of the aspects, symptoms of torture, psychologically and physically, for this ceaseless ongoing isolation, over it’s just beyond cruel, its malice. I think it’s malice and if we are not careful it’ll turn to tragedy.
P: It must be very hard also for you to see what is happening to your son, and how he is punished for his good actions, The human side is very clear, but let us remind our viewer inside of this, what is the significance above the human tragedy, for every one of us, of what is happening with Julian Assange.
JS: Well for us there’s two very clear aspects: one is the repression of the freedom of association, free speech and a more or less free press. The repression of Julian and its ramifications throughout the world… the journalists like Julian have been harassed in Australia, intimidated in Australia,intimidated in Ecuador, intimidated in Brazil, intimidated in France. So, coinciding with Julian being dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy by seven policemen, worldwide there appears to be an opportunity to repress journalists and press freedom and freedom of association. We must fight this with every breath we can. So, also a second aspect is that Julian applied for asylum and he was by the United Nations extended asylum, it was given asylum and when you become an asylee you’re covered by the conventions of asylum that the United Kingdom, Germany, France, my country, other countries have signed on to. So, as an asylee you are allowed to travel over the United Kingdom’s land to take up the asylum in Ecuador, but the United Kingdom refused. Then the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention boarded a determination that Julian was arbitrarily detained, ought to be freed and the United Kingdom and Sweden pay Julian compensation. Again this was ignored. Then Julian was dragged out and arrested. It’s not possible to arrest an asylee. Given asylum under the conventions of the United Nations, which United Kingdom is signatory to, it’s not possible to arrest Julian for bail breaking. Yet the United Kingdom went ahead and sentenced to him to a harsh sentence of 50 weeks, for a minor thing in a maximum-security prison for 50 weeks, which expired on the 1st of October. So that second one is something we ought to defend, it’s a benefit to all nations and all of us. First is press freedom, freedom of association, freedom of speech. The second is the conventions that all nations signed on to governing Asylum and asylees.
P: I think it’s very important also to be aware how much Julian risked for us. I mean, he didn’t do this for any personal benefit, he did it really for us and now he is in this situation. And I think, despite of a very broad smear campaign against him, he has a lot of sympathy all over the world but also I have the impression that the sympathy is not enough…
JS: Though, the sympathy is there and gratifying but the necessity…Well, let’s start a little further in, the gifts to us from WikiLeaks and Julian’s journalism are immense, there are many many examples. For example the Cablegate allows us to see how our geopolitical world, how our nation falls into and is constructed within the American Empire, it allows us to see who takes the bribes, it allows us to see those that are sordid treacherous and, at the same time, those that are not. It allows us, in the case of Chagos Islanders, to go to the International Court of Justice and pursue justice, because they were taken from their homes: 3.000 Chagos islanders were taken from their homes and dumped in Mauritius, so that the United States could build an Air Force Base at Diego Garcia and launch B-52s there to bomb and destroy Iraq. War crime after war crime. Exposed the dumping of toxic waste by Trafigura at the east coast of Africa, destroying the livelihood of coastal villages. Crime after crime. These are immense gifts to all human beings, exposing the crimes of government and corporations. So Julian has given, and WikiLeaks have given a tremendous gift to all of us and so doing, it is our obligation to ensure that the ongoing prosecution and persecution of Julian stops now.
P: I agree completely, but I go back to my initial question.
P: Is this expression of sympathy, which we see all over the world, enough?
JS: No, we must pursue our governments to right this wrong, because it is of the benefit to those governments and our nation and the people within, we must pursue in every way possible for our governments to take their responsibility, this to citizens seriously and place it over and above the relationship with the current hegemon.
P: One question about your government, about the Australian government. I think you have been in conversation at the certain point with the Foreign Ministry of Australia and there seems to be a possibility that they try to bring Julian home. Is there seriously a political will?
JS: We had from Minister Julie Bishop, under the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, he raised Julian’s matter with Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom. A week later the Australian Foreign Minister Bishop raised the matter with Secretary of State Pompeo in California. Pompeo, of course, said he wasn’t interested. Jeremy Hunt was, well you know, he dodged the issue, so that now we have a different government and I don’t know the attitude of our government quite yet, but within Parliament we have growing support. That’s parliamentarians across party supporting us, so we will in a short while be able to force our government to take its responsibility to citizen Assange, Australian citizen Assange seriously and assist us to bring this cruelty to Julian to a firm end.
P: You are now, here in Berlin for a few days, what expectations are there towards the German government or, do you have any support from parliamentarians in Germany?
JS: Yes, we have some support. It’s a very large Parliament, over 700, so it’s difficult for us to get around in two days and it’s a holiday today, but we will be back. And, again, it’s to Julian’s benefit and the benefit of the German government and the German media and the German people to insist that international laws and conventions are obeyed, because it brings benefit and powers to the German government and benefits to the German people and allows the German media to freely follow leads and stories without being incarcerated, without being cruelly locked up, without being pursued here and there by secret police. So it’s to their benefit to act to ensure that Julian’s persecution ends.
P: They benefited in their responsibility.
JS: And responded and, if I may go further, obligation.
P: Your tour, as we said in the beginning, in Europe… for how long you will stay in Europe?
JS: Oh, I’m staying, I’m staying, Julian has lots and lots of friends in Berlin, many many friends who have worked with Julian closely in the computer chaos Club. Friends. So I stay in Europe until Julian and I, and his family can come to Berlin and thank the friends, and thank the parliamentarians personally, that’s how long I’ll stay in Europe.
P: Very nice. Is there anything you would like to add which you didn’t have the possibility to say?
JS: Oh, well just that together we will win this. Of that there’s no doubt.
P: Thank you very much, it’s really an honour to have you here in Berlin and thank you for this interview.
JS: Thank you very much. It’s been a great pleasure for me.