National Press Club, 22 May 2023
It is a great pleasure to join you here today. I would like to thank the National Press Club for inviting me to speak here with you.
Since I touched down at the airport in Sydney I have been greeted with enormous warmth, and although it is my first time coming to Australia, I do not feel like a stranger to these shores. Julian’s stories have acquired a sharper resolution in my mind, and I can better understand why he misses home so much.
The truth is that I have mixed emotions about being here, because I always imagined my first visit to be with Julian and the children. I could not bring them because I am here to speak to you today and to join the rally in Sydney on Wednesday before I return to London.
My visit here was originally prompted by the official visit of President Biden and the Quad summit. After it was cancelled I decided to come anyway, I did not want to lose the opportunity to speak to you. Because we are now in the endgame. Julian needs his freedom urgently and Australia plays a crucial role in securing his release.
I recognise many faces in the room today who have played a crucial role in the fight for the freedom of my husband.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Julian Assange, who have created a political environment in which support for Julian goes beyond party-political affiliation.
That show of unity has made it possible for the leadership to take a position. I wish to thank the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, as well as the leader of the opposition Peter Dutton for putting that position on the record, that Julian should be released so that he can come home. Home to his family, home to Australia.
I want to thank the Australian press for keeping Julian’s case alive in the minds of the Australian public.
But above all I would like to thank the overwhelming dedication of the Australian people, who have brought about a sea change in awareness and solidarity for Julian’s plight. This unity in support for my husband is a source of enormous encouragement for our family. It nurtures Julian’s ability to continue on.
The reality is that to regain his freedom, Julian needs the support of his home country. This is a political case, and it needs a political solution.
I often am asked what Julian’s day-to-day is like, and what we talk about. Yes, we spend time talking about the intricacies of the legal arguments or the political developments that influence the case, but most of the time we talk about the past and about our future together.
His past, is here.
He tells our children how he would catch yabbies and go fishing for flathead and black fish in the Sandon river with his grandfather Warren.
Or how he reared a fledgling rainbow lorikeet when he lived on Magnetic Island when he was thirteen. He fed the lorikeet on mangos until it was strong enough to rejoin the wild.
He tells the children about Tilly, the chestnut coated mare which he would ride when he stayed in the Northern Rivers. Or how he surfed in Byron Bay as a teenager. He tells them about his beekeeping in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria.
That’s how I imagine Julian when he is free. Not behind the cold blue glare of a computer screen, but cycling through Melbourne like he used to, or feeling his bare feet sink into the cool sand, like I did yesterday on Bondi beach.
Today, Julian’s feet only ever feel the hard, dull, even cement on the prison floor. When he goes to the yard for exercise, there is no grass, no sand. Just the bitumen pavement surrounded by cameras and layers of razor wire overhead.
I can tell you exactly what Julian is doing right now. It is 3 a.m. in London. Julian is lying in his cell, probably awake and struggling to fall asleep. It’s where he spends twenty-two hours a day, every day.
Julian’s cell is about three by two meters. He uses some of his books to block out the unpleasant draft coming from the window in the cold winter nights. There are pictures on the walls. Pictures of the children, pictures of us, together. A large colourful poster of a nebula taken by NASA’s James Webb Telescope.
A chart showing the distance between London and European cities, so that he can make the distance to Brussels, Vienna and Lisbon, pacing up and down the length of his cell. He has warn out two pairs of sneakers walking the European continent in his cell.
He reads to keep his mind busy, to fight the crushing sense of isolation and of time wasting away.
He has spent 1502 days in a prison cell, with no end in sight, and no way of knowing how many days to count down to a release. Julian will be in that cell indefinitely unless he is released.
If Julian is extradited, he will be buried in the deepest, darkest hole of the US prison system, isolated forever. That is what is done to defendants in so-called national security cases, even before trial.
A 175 year sentence is a living death sentence. A prospect so desperate that the English court found that it would drive him to take his own life, rather than live forever in hell.
We must do everything we can to ensure that Julian never, ever, sets foot in a US prison. Extradition in this case is a matter of life and death.
Julian counts the days until our next visit.
When the children and I get to Belmarsh, usually on a weekend, we leave our belongings in a locker. We check in with the prison authorities in the visitor’s centre building, my finger print is scanned, and we get a stamp on the back of our hands. Then we head to the entrance of His Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh.
The only thing we are allowed to have in our hands is a V.O., or visitors’ order. It lists the people who are authorised to visit Julian on that day.
We stand in endless queues. Max, who recently turned four, used to call the prison, “the queue”. “When are we seeing daddy in the queue, mama?”. Now he is coming to better understand what a prison is, but not quite. When I travel he asks me, “when are you coming back from work prison mama?”.
Gabriel, who just turned six, knows it’s a prison. Prisons feature in his dreams and his nightmares. I tell him that his father is no ordinary prisoner, he is a hero, and millions of people around the world want him to come back home to us.
My finger prints are scanned three more times as we make our way through the airlocks. After the first airlock our shoes and jackets are put through an X-ray machine.
A prison officer scans us each in turn with a magnetic wand, front and back, and under our feet. Then a second prison officer pats us down, front and back, under our feet again. They check our hair, in our mouths and behind our ears. Then we go into a second airlock, which lets us out onto a cement yard.
We cross the yard and queue up once more to get into the interior building and a third airlock, after which we are let through to the dog search. We stand on a square, the children are told to stand still and be quiet while the dog jumps up to sniff us, front and back. Then, finally, we are through to the large visitor hall, where Julian is sitting at one of forty tables.
Julian sits on a red chair, opposite three blue chairs. A heavy table is between us. The children race to him shrieking gleefully, while the prison officer complains that the children should remain quietly by my side until my finger print has been scanned once more.
At the table, Julian and I are allowed to embrace hello and goodbye. I am allowed to hold his hand across the table. The children climb on him and he reads them stories.
All our children’s memories with their father are in this one large, echoey visitors’ hall—with the one exception of our wedding last year, which was in a bare room in a different building inside the prison. For an hour and a half, once or twice a week, we are together as a family.
There is now near universal recognition of the enormous implications that this case has for press freedom and the future of democracy.
For most people, Julian is a symbol. A symbol of staggering injustice, because he is in prison on trumped up charges for exposing the crimes of others. A symbol because he faces a bewildering 175 year sentence for publishing the truth. A symbol of a sophisticated form of state violence dressed up in complexity and indirection that not even Franz Kafka could have imagined.
For the press and the public Julian’s case is the most brutal attack on press freedom that the Western world has seen in the last 70 years. A foreign government is using the political offences in its statute books to indict a foreign national abroad, because of what he or she published in a different country.
Accurate, damning publications exposing their war crimes. If sovereignty is to mean anything, if jurisdiction is a proper legal and political reality, the case against Julian cannot be understood as anything other than an absurdity.
A stupifying decision of egregious overreach.
The case is the worst, and most enduring legacy of the Trump administration. It is not just outlandish but extremely pernicious.
Julian is being used as a deterrent to bully journalists into submission. The case against him sends the message that each of you in this room is fair game. It is a show of contempt for democratic accountability and of the rights of victims of government wrongdoing. For all the talk of press freedom as necessary in a democratic society, the case against Julian provides a gaping hole through which any country can legitimise the imprisonment of journalists and dissidents, including other Australian journalists. And use it they do.
Russia’s charges against Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich mirror the charges the US has brought against Julian. Russia had not used the Espionage Act against a foreign journalist since 1987. For almost fourty years, Russia had expelled foreign journalists, but now it puts them on trial for “espionage”.
America’s case against Julian has created a new race to the bottom, a new normal, which makes it easier to get away with imprisoning journalists.
Enough is enough. There is no time left to lose. Julian needs to come home to us, home to all of us. Please help bring us back together. Thank you.