It was a huge success in Como Thursday night for the screening of Ben Lawrence’s film Ithaka, the documentary that tells the odyssey of a father fighting body and soul to save his son from an unjust life sentence.
And what a son! – Julian Assange, the Australian publisher and journalist doggedly pursued by the CIA and U.S. justice and jailed for four years in London for revealing U.S. and U.K. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And what a father! – John Shipton, a 70-year-old former Australian builder who now travels the world, speaking to presidents, celebrities and ordinary citizens to scrape together the support needed “to pull Julian out of that hellish abyss.” He did not use a hyperbole; the London prison, Belmarsh, is dubbed the British Guantanamo, in reference to the infamous U.S. prison for alleged terrorists.
So, Ithaka began its Italian tour after its premiere last Sunday in Bologna, at the cine teatro Smeraldo in Montano Lucino (Como), packed with more than 200 spectators. Presenting the film were Franco Cavalleri and Lorena Corrias of the group Como_for_Assange, which can be joined by writing to 328/7680405 or firstname.lastname@example.org. .
After the screening was over, the audience peppered poor newly awakened John Shipton with questions for a good half hour (it was 6 am in Sydney, nothing but fatherly dedication!).
A ByoBlu columnist, knowing about the recent meeting that took place between Shipton and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a highly-launched candidate for the White House in 2024, wanted to know if the son of the former U.S. Attorney General (translator’s note: Robert F. Kennedy, father of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., was a U.S. Attorney General) had been thrown out of balance by the Assange case. “Not at all!” replied Shipton, “He answered me categorically that as soon as he is elected, one of his first acts will be to free Julian, who has done nothing but what a good investigative journalist should do: reveal inconvenient truths.”
The Milan representative of the Committee for the Liberation of Julian Assange-Italy, who was present in the room, wanted to know Shipton’s opinion on a Russian parliamentarian’s proposal to make a prisoner swap between Assange and Evan Gershkovich, the U.S. journalist in jail in Moscow on espionage charges. “I think the offer is a clever propaganda move by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, but nothing more,” Shipton replied.
A viewer who had come especially from Brescia to see the film, [got] visibly moved, then took the microphone to tell Shipton that all the boys in the audience surely would like to have a father like him and all the parents in the audience surely would like to be like him – at which point it wasJulian Assange’s elderly father’s turn to be moved.
Still on the subject of compassion, one lady wanted to know if Shipton, as a good father, had thought of asking for mercy for Julian from King Charles III, as he was also a father. Embarrassed, Shipton recalled the rumors of disagreements between Charles and his own children but then added that, in any case, an intervention by Charles would be more than desirable; but he has not yet obtained a hearing.
More than one viewer wanted to know what we can do to help free Julian Assange. Shipton replied, “Do what you are doing now, you are wonderful: get informed, spread the truth about Julian among your friends and acquaintances, so you will fight from below the falsehoods told by the media.” A councilman from the City of Montano Lucino took the ball and, over the microphone, announced that he would bring a motion to the city council for honorary citizenship for Julian Assange.
Asked if he has noticed an increase in media attention to his son’s case, Shipton replied in the affirmative but then quickly added, “It still remains far too little; a few editorials a few months ago are not enough; editors and journalists all over the world should SHOUT their outrage every day at the imprisonment of one of their own. Because, if Julian’s incarceration becomes final, sooner or later they too will pass in the crosshairs of power, one after another.”
On that note, Corrias wanted to know if Shipton was surprised by the enthusiastic reception of the film Ithaka around the world, given precisely the press silence on the Assange case. “How do you explain that?” he added. “It’s simple,” Julian’s father replied, “despite all the heinousness that exists in the world, people, I mean ordinary people, like those in the audience tonight, are basically good, they have a sense of justice ingrained in them and a distaste for inequity. My son’s case speaks directly to these feelings and so does the film Ithaka.”
When asked if he did not feel discouraged after years of traveling all over the world to promote the release of his son, travels that so far have come to nothing, Shipton paused for a moment, as if searching for something in his memory, and then, having found what he was looking for, in a solemn but happy voice he intoned, “and thence we came forth to see the stars again” (Inferno XXXIV, 139). The hall burst into applause.
It is his deep faith – that is, the faith that justice will triumph in the end – that sustains him.
Even though he had a plane to catch, John Shipton stayed connected with the Como hall until the end so that he could answer every single question, always in the same calm and quiet but intense tone: that of his son Julian. And the hall was grateful to him. May he and Julian see the stars again together soon!