Julian’s voice MUST be heard: letters from Belmarsh

by Davey Heller, 27th August 2019

The US ruling class and their imperialist allies are trying to extinguish the voice of Julian Assange as punishment for his exposure of their crimes and deter anyone else considering to follow his example.

Since being dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy, Julian has become a virtual modern-day “Man in the Iron Mask”. He is imprisoned in isolation at the Belmarsh “Supermax” in the UK and suffers fading physical and mental health. Julian, however, refuses to be silenced and his voice has been heard faintly, yet powerfully, through the uncoordinated publication on social media of a handful of letters he has sent to individual supporters. No equivalent messages have been released through the ‘official’ elements of Assange’s campaign, support network, PR or legal team. This stands in stark contrast to other comparable political prisoners, including Chelsea Manning, who regularly have their statements from prison communicated directly to the public. Julian’s letters in this context are currently his only voice and the only direct way he has to share his political perspective and personal plight to supporters and the broader public. These important letters should therefore be amplified and shared as widely as possible.

Julian has never kept his political perspective to himself. Demonstrably, through his work with Wikileaks, countless interviews and by maintaining a lively social-media presence on Twitter, Julian communicated directly with tens-of-millions of people around the world. All of this changed in June 2018, when Ecuador, acting on behalf of the US, cut off his internet, phone and most visitors. The UK has now worsened Assange’s isolation in Belmarsh. 

Despite this, Julian continues to grasp whatever slivers of opportunity present themselves to speak directly to his supporters. On April 11th, he exploited the few precious seconds available as he was being bundled into a police van to yell out: “You can resist, you must resist!” and “The UK must resist this attempt by the Trump administration”. A few weeks later, during the first stage of the US extradition hearings, Assange stated to the court: “I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many awards and protected many people”.

The only other way that Julian has found to break out of the gag placed upon him is via handwritten replies he has mailed to supporters who have written to him in Belmarsh. The first letter to emerge was shared publicly by independent online UK journalist Gordon Dimmack on May 24th. In that letter Julian spoke of his terrible prison conditions and made the poignant plea “I am unbroken, albeit literally surrounded by murderers, but the days when I could read and speak and organize to defend myself, my ideals, and my people are over until I am free! Everyone else must take my place.” Assange finished with the powerful words “Truth, ultimately, is all we have.

Gordan Dimmack reading out his letter from Julian Assange

News soon emerged that Julian’s health was failing and he had to be moved to the hospital wing of Belmarsh prison. No new letters emerged for almost three months until Aryiana Love, an Assange campaigner based in Finland, put her letter out on Twitter on August 15th. Julian thanked Aryiana and stated defiantly: “It is people like you, great and small, fighting to save my life that keeps me going. We can win this!”

Almost immediately, another letter was published on Twitter by Isabelle Viktor which had been passed on to her by another supporter called Linda. Dated May 21st, in the letter that is transcribed below, Julian gives very specific advice on the choice of locations and targets for protest to his supporters, ending with the words: “I am very isolated and not sure of the state of play, but you get the idea, push on that which will move, not simply that which opposes. Said another way, find the weak links in the chain that bind me”. 

Transcript of May 21st letter from Julian giving protest advice to his supporter.

On August 16th, a letter to a supporter in Switzerland emerged stating “Knowing you are out there fighting for me keeps me alive in this profound isolation”.

Another reply from Assange was published on Twitter on August 22nd stating: “Thank you! The suffering here is profound, but we can win this! Knowing you have my back is what gets me through! – JPA”. The reply was written on the inside of the return envelope. To think that one of the greatest political voices in the world has been reduced to scrawled messages from maximum security on the inside of an envelope is extraordinarily disturbing.

Others have shared short letters from Julian which simply say “Thanks!”. 

What can be surmised from these few letters that have been shared publicly from Julian? They reveal that Julian is feeling extremely isolated and is suffering greatly. They reveal that he is very grateful for the ongoing public support he is receiving and that he understands that it is this social force that ultimately has the power to save him. It also reveals that he not only wants to communicate these facts to his supporters directly – but in addition – wishes to still give very specific advice to his supporters on how to best protest on his behalf. 

Given these conclusions, how can the lack of conveyed direct messages from Julian, from his visitors, lawyers or even Wikileaks itself be explained? I do not offer or have any proven theories to explain the contradiction between the clear desire of Julian to use whatever means available to him to share his political perspective and plight – with the complete lack of direct statements from him emanating from the ‘official’ channels of the campaign. 

One of Chelsea Manning messages to supporters via Twitter

This stands in stark contrast to Chelsea Manning who has been jailed since March for refusing to cooperate in the legal witch hunt of Assange in the form of testifying before a Grand Jury. Via her Twitter account, Chelsea is able to communicate a combination of personal and political messages. Presumably, these are relayed to her support team to be tweeted out. She has even been able to release a statement that was read out by supporters at Pride Marches to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Her lawyers have also used the court proceedings to allow Chelsea to make an in-depth political case as to why she believes the entire process she is being subjected to is illegitimate, when they submitted and released her explanation for why she will never agree to testify to a grand jury.  

*Ola Bini, the Swedish programmer that the Moreno Government is attempting to frame up as a “Wikileaks hacker” also had letters published by his solidarity campaign whilst he was in detention.

*Barrett Brown whilst in prison in 2016 on charges related to his work on the Stratfor emails leaks which were published by Wikileaks was even able to succesfully continue his journalism from jail, winning a National Magazine Award for a series of columns entitled “The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and jail.

*Anarchist prisoner Jeremey Hammon imprisoned in the US for hacking the Stratfor emails releases statements via his supporters from jail, one as recently as June.

*Even the fascist Tommy Robinson who is also imprisoned in Belmarsh recently managed to get a long letter out to his brown-shirt supporters.  

Magnifying the voice of a political prisoner wherever possible has always been a central focus in solidarity campaigns. One only has to think of the long-term political prisoners Mumia Abdul Jammal or Leonard Peltier in the US who have released numerous statements and writings over decades of imprisonment in the US. 

August 16th letter from Julian to supporter in Switzerland

Which brings us back to the strange case of Julian Assange, who as noted has been reduced to writing messages on the back of envelopes in the hope that they may make it to his supporters more generally. 

The only statement that I am aware of, facilitated by his legal team and made by Julian since his arrest was the futile, humiliating and politically questionable ‘apology’ he submitted to the court when he was given fifty weeks in jail for breach of bail on May 1st. 

It must also be conceded that this lack of direct ‘official’ statements from Julian seems to have been an issue ever since his internet was cut off in the Ecudorean Embassy in March 2018.

As stated, I have no idea why Julian’s clear desire to communicate with his supporters is not being facilitated more through ‘official’ elements of his campaign, support network, PR and legal team. The high-profile supporters, friends and family who have visited Julian in jail under traumatic circumstances clearly only have Julian’s best interest at heart. Likewise his legal team are fighting a David vs Goliath multi-pronged defence of Assange and Wikileaks across three jurisdictions (UK, Sweden and the US) involving both civil and criminal matters. Wikileaks itself, must be one of the most targeted and harassed organisations in political and publishing history. 

However, it is not necessary to make accusations of maliciousness against any of these parties, nor should it be taken as such when drawing attention to the political problems that are blocking Assange from getting his voice out in an organised way from Belmarsh.

It is also no secret that Wikileaks and Julian Assange have also commissioned professional PR teams to help win over public opinion. I can only say that whatever PR strategy this team may be pursuing, it is the wrong one if it does not feature Julian’s own voice as the major component of its campaign. 

If the central political aim of the persecution of Assange is to silence his voice, then surely a central political aim of his defence should be to amplify his voice whenever and wherever possible. Not only will this help fight the obvious psychological toll that this repression is taking on Julian but the powerful words of Julian (defiantly defending his journalism and condemning his treatment) communicated directly to the global youth and working class would help rouse the only social force that can ultimately free him. 

In the meantime, it is clear that Julian deeply appreciates and needs as many letters as possible whilst he is in Belmarsh. Please read the following link or other similar sites to find out how to write to Julian. If you are outside the UK, be aware that only commemorative stamps can be bought online and sent overseas. Please attach sufficient stamps to a blank envelope and include some lined blank paper so Julian can write back to you if he wishes. If he does send a message that would be appropriate to share with his supporters publicly, please do so. We must do everything in our power to let the voice of Julian Assange ring out from behind the vicious prison walls that currently imprison him. And as Julian wrote to Gordo Dimmack, “Truth is ultimately all we have.”

Note: Please also consider writing to Chelsea Manning who also needs ongoing messages from supporters. Details on how to do so can be found here

LINKS TO LETTERS FROM JULIAN ASSANGE

Note: This list includes letters released after the publication of the above article
Letter to Gordon Dimmack (Released May 24th)
Letter to Aryiana Love (Released August 15th)
Letter to Linda with specific protest advice from Julian (Released August 15th)
Letter to supporter in Switzerland (Released August 16th)
Thankyou letter (Released August 18th)
Thankyou letter to Catherine of Melbourne4Wikileaks (released August 29th)




Davey Heller

Davey Heller is a Trotskyist from Melbourne and long-time campaigner for Left-wing causes including anti-war, refugee rights, environmental protests and workers' struggles. He is a former secondary teacher who studies history at Monash University and currently works in the environmental field. You can follow him on Twitter at @socialist_davey

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