Every Saturday since 6 August, Lorena Corrias has been sitting in Como’s Piazza Verdi in an imaginary cell measuring two by three metres drawn on the ground, dressed in the orange uniform of the Guantanamo prisoners, in a non-violent protest demanding the release of Julian Assange. She has joined the 24 hours for Assange that will take place on 15 October.
-Lorena, how did you get the idea to do this?
-For months I wanted to do something that would have a strong impact on people; then on Instagram, I saw a girl from Berlin – Raja Valeska – who went down to crowded places in the city every day to protest with a sign indicating how many days Julian had been detained in Belmarsh and drew a rectangle on the ground with the dimensions of Assange’s cell (2 by 3 metres). I thought it was a great idea, very impressive, and so I tried to apply it in my city as well. I also contacted her and today we are still looking for new projects together. She has been my muse. I was deeply moved by her idea and her courage.
-What particularly moved you about Julian?
-I can’t list just one aspect.
I was moved by the injustice he has been subjected to, but also by his immense courage and loyalty to us: he risked everything to let us know what was really going on in the world. He challenged an unjust and corrupt system.
He is undoubtedly a great hero, a unique, tenacious man of enormous intelligence, an example to us all.
Then, of course, it struck me that he had such an out-of-the-ordinary, super-innovative and revolutionary idea (WikiLeaks) and that he managed to put it into practice. It would probably have seemed to all of us to be an almost impossible undertaking, but he did it! For a few years he was the protagonist of the news to which only he, the whistleblowers and his collaborators had access; he was the inventor of a new world, a just world where the weakest were no longer hidden by secrecy and where we all had access to the information that mattered to us. He told us what the states wanted to hide from us.
I was shocked to learn the story of the detainees in Guantánamo, many of them innocent; to see how US soldiers enjoyed shooting from helicopters at unarmed civilians who were simply walking down the street… It was like watching children playing Play Station (I refer to the video called Collateral Murder). I was shocked to see states like the US, Australia, Sweden and England breaking numerous laws to teach a lesson to an innocent person, who was just doing his job for free in the interest of the population.
It hurt me to see how he was accused of rape and how, unfortunately, many people lost faith in him because of this unfounded accusation. Afterwards the accusation was withdrawn, but it was never rectified on TV and in the newspapers with the same impact as when he was made to look like a criminal in the eyes of the whole world.
-How far do you intend to go?
-For the moment I have asked for leave until the end of March, but I don’t rule out prolonging my protest for as long as necessary until Julian is released.
-How do you feel during those two hours?
-I experience different feelings.
I try to empathise with his situation by thinking about how he feels in there, alone, without any certainty about his fate or his future. I imagine how terrible it is to be locked up in such a small, dark space with no natural light, and it hurts me to know that I can’t make it for it to remove him immediately from that hell.
And then there are the feelings that result from interactions with others. I liked the idea of standing still in one place waiting for onlookers to approach, because stopping people is usually frowned upon; most people don’t want to be disturbed, are in a hurry, are busy. It disappoints me when someone who doesn’t know Julian or his story doesn’t even want to try to find out why I and so many others are committed to supporting him. Or worse, when they think he is guilty and deserves what is happening to him, because unfortunately that has happened too.
On the other hand, when I am approached by people who are curious and eager to know and to go deeper, I feel relieved and satisfied, because then I believe there is still hope.
-How do people react, what do your friends and loved ones say?
-Most of my loved ones are supportive. Some friends are fully supportive, while others are silent. As for the people in general, unfortunately most of them are shying away from the people who are demonstrating, they look at me strangely, some look at the “cell” with Julián’s photo inside and try to read the posters, but then as soon as they see that I try to talk to them they leave. Others, on the other hand, those who are perhaps more curious or empathetic or those who know the case, thank me for what I do and ask me questions.
-What do you want to say, in profundity, with this initiative? What message do you want to give?
-My message is that I don’t want to live in a world where Julian Assange is locked up in a maximum-security prison, or extradited to the United States, or worse, in a world where he dies in prison. I DO NOT WANT TO LIVE IN A WORLD WITHOUT JULIAN ASSANGE and I do not want to be silent while he goes through this. Everyone must know and everyone must do something for it to save him. THERE ARE MANY OF US! I will never accept any other solution than his immediate release.
The aim of my silent protest, however, is informative: I would like everyone who comes forward, even if they choose not to talk to me, to do some research about him and his situation anyway. If at least a third of the people who pass through Piazza Verdi during those hours would look up on the internet who Julian Assange is, my protest will not have been in vain.
Finally, I think it is crucial that everyone understands that this case affects the future of all of us; all of us could be treated like Julian Assange in the future.