Yanis Varoufakis on Julian Assange’s Release

Yanis Varoufakis passionately celebrates Julian Assange's release, criticizes those who imprisoned him for "journalism," and urges continued support for all political prisoners.
Yanis Varoufakis on Julian Assange's Release

Yanis Varoufakis with a passionate speech about Julian Assange’s release and a scathing criticism of those who sought to keep him behind bars for the crime of ‘journalism’.

Julian Assange is finally a free man. The WikiLeaks co-founder was released from Belmarsh prison on Monday morning after 1,901 days of being kept inside the maximum-security location.

On May 20, judges at the UK high court in London had granted Assange the right to appeal his United States extradition and, on June 24, he was finally granted bail and was released at Stansted airport from where he boarded a plane and departed for Australia.

For us at MERA25 and DiEM25, in which Julian has been with us from the beginning as a founding member, the liberation of our comrade is a milestone: the fight for justice is never in vain.

This is the moment to redouble our efforts to free every political prisoner, everywhere!

* * *

In these dark times, it’s magnificent to have a few rays of light to pierce through the darkness and to allow us to celebrate that the human spirit cannot be confined into the darkness forever, that the human spirit cannot be defeated, that resistance is never futile even when it seems to be so.

There were times when, with Srećko Horvat and with others of you here, we felt that the struggle to save Julian was probably lost. There were bleak moments, there were stony years, especially after 2015-2016. I’ll get back to this in a moment, but let me first, because there are quite a few people who don’t understand what exactly has been going on.

As most people know, at this very moment, Julian is on an airplane. It is disgraceful that he has to pay for it himself, that it is a chartered private flight, that the Australian government, the British government, the American government who have caused all this pain are not paying for. So remember, we need crowdfunding to help pay for the half a million dollars necessary to take Julian to Guam, to somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific. So let me act as a pseudo-journalist for one moment for the benefit of those viewers and listeners who do not know exactly what has been going on.

Look, it was around nine months ago when Julian’s family informed me that there was an offer by the American government of a plea deal. It sounded simultaneously like good news and bad. You agreed to drop your resistance to the extradition process in the United Kingdom, you come to the United States, you appear in front of a court, you declare yourself to be guilty of a lesser espionage charge, but not the top notch which would qualify him for the death penalty or a thousand years in prison or whatever. You will be sentenced to 5 years in prison, and then because you’ve already spent 5 years in Belmarsh, this will be considered time served and then you will be released and you’ll be extradited to Australia.

That was months ago that it was proposed to him. I can tell you that he said no because he’s not guilty of anything, and also because of the fear that once you end up in the jurisdiction of Virginia where the process started 12 years ago of persecuting him and making sure that he dies in a supermax prison. Two parallel processes: one is his family has been pushing Julian to accept because this is a family that has been completely wrecked by all those years of having Julian dying slowly inside that prison and I understand that entirely. And at the same time, there were negotiations on how to ensure that he does not spend one hour in prison and especially not a supermax prison, not in any cell even of the judicial system of the court system in the State of Virginia, in the District of Columbia.

So in the end, it’s clear now – that I learned from the media myself, I didn’t have any inside information – that the deal was completed. They found the nearest American judicial jurisdiction, which is as near to the territory of the Australian Commonwealth, which is somewhere in a God-forsaken little Island near Guam. And he’s being flown there on the understanding that he would not be incarcerated for one hour. He’ll appear in front of a judge. The fact, however, remains, and this is crucial, that he will have to appear in front of a judge with his lawyer. The prosecutor will be there. The judge will address the prosecutor and ask if a plea deal has been made. The prosecutor will say yes. Then Julian will be instructed by the judge to express in his own words, his guilt. So he’s not just going to plead guilty; he will have to explain why he’s guilty and not contest his guilt. And then, it will be up to the judge, at least formally, to accept this elocution, as it’s called: the expression of remorse and guilt by Julian.

I’m explaining this in sordid details so that we know exactly what is happening and to understand why, while it is a major victory for Julian Assange and for all of us who have been tirelessly working towards his release – because the United States government has been shamed into giving up the task of killing him -. The United Kingdom has completely, completely been humiliated by this. Because remember, the United Kingdom was saying for 12 years now that there’s nothing they can do, that since an extradition has been asked for, first by Sweden, remember Srećko? and then by the United States, well, their hands have been tied. BULLSHIT! How can I prove that? It’s really very simple. You know, they let him fly out of Britain without the extradition process having been rescinded. So it is clear that they were not obliged to respect the extradition process, – either the Swedish one or the American one – because clearly today, they let him leave the country without the extradition process being formally suspended.

So the United Kingdom as an entity, as a state, should be hanging its collective head in shame today, as should the Biden Administration and Trump Administration. But nevertheless, while we have every reason to celebrate because it just goes to show that the pressure from the movement has borne fruit, and that is a great moment for us. For the movement, for Julian, for everybody who’s been fighting against all odds, the powers that be, the totalitarianism that be. It’s a great day for us, for the movement but it is a major defeat for journalism. The editors of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde should also be hanging their heads in shame because they have been defeated. The fact that Julian, in order to survive and to be reunited with his family and his friends, the fact that he needs to tomorrow stand in front of a judge and accept the jurisdiction of the United States outside the borders of the United States, accept the right of the United States government to imprison somebody for 5 years – remember, time spent – five years, for a crime committed outside the United States by a non-US citizen. And what crime? The crime of telling the truth as a journalist.

You know what this means? It means that the legacy of Dan Ellsberg, the hero, our hero of the Pentagon Papers, who published damning information right from within the Pentagon about the Vietnam War and who stood his ground – in the end, he never acquired a criminal record, he was never convicted of anything. So journalism survived the persecution of Dan Ellsberg – by the way, Dan was a great supporter until he died very recently – of Julian Assange. But Julian Assange is now going to have a criminal record, which of course is a badge of honor for him, but it is a badge of disgrace for the New York Times, for the Washington Post, for the Guardian, who did nothing to defend him during the difficult dark ages where Srećko and I and all of you were fighting for his freedom, and they were condemning him as a rapist, as a supporter of Donald Trump, and all that jazz.

Allow me to say a few words now about that dark age, that dark period, and Srećko will add to that, I’m sure. There was a time when we would be in the Ecuadorian Embassy and for hours and hours and hours be discussing with Julian the avalanche of mud that was being thrown and piled upon him. And you know, the powers that be, the totalitarian states – United States, United Kingdom, and so on – they were very smart about the way they did it. Because what they did was this: they tried to find the weak link. They tried to find, you see, if you accuse me of being a communist, I don’t mind, you’re probably right. If you accuse me of being anti-NATO, anti-US Government, I’ll say yes, that’s exactly right. If you accuse me of being a rapist, if you accuse me of being an anti-Semite, which is what of course happens all the time, that really hurts because as feminists, as anti-racists, the mere mention of these accusations is a major, major, major wound. It’s a trauma, and that’s what they did.

You will recall, some of you who were with us with DiEM25 back then, that especially immediately after Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party, at the time when of course Julian was still being persecuted and prosecuted and he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy, and that time was when of course that incredible case by Sweden supposedly on rape charges – which never, never were laid, never, it was just mud, it was just innuendo. There was never a charge even for sexual assault, for rape, or anything like that, it was just innuendo. The kind of mud that sticks and there’s nothing you can do to wash it because you can’t even address a charge that has been laid down against you. But I remember, and Srećko will confirm that in his own words, I remember how desperate those days were when we were losing all our comrades.

Remember, DiEM25 had an agreement to merge our efforts with a very valiant, progressive, youthful movement in Britain called “Another Europe is Possible,” do you remember that? Do you remember why that alliance, that merger was at the very last moment jettisoned and blown up? Because they demanded that we ditch Julian Assange because he was a rapist. We lost young feminists, women and men, across the United Kingdom and across Europe within our own movement. Do you remember that, Srećko? We had people within our movement, even in the CC, in the Coordinating Collective, saying, “Come on, let’s ditch Julian, he costs us more than he benefits us.” But we stood our ground and we said no, and we even had an all-member vote in order to defeat that attempt for DiEM25 to be co-opted by the, effectively, the successful wave of vilifying Julian, which took root within the Progressive Movement in northern Europe – not so much southern Europe, but in northern Europe.

Do you remember that in November 2018, Bernie Sanders, myself, David Adler, and others were in Vermont and we started the Progressive International? Well, let me be very clear on this. After we started the Progressive International, Bernie Sanders and I proclaimed the PI came out and said “Join us” to the world, we had a message from Bernie’s senatorial team saying: but the condition is you drop Julian because he’s too hot a brick or a potato for us to handle. And very soon after that, one of our comrades, a wonderful woman who was part of the Progressive International, the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, signaled to us that as long as we support Julian, “a rapist” in inverted commas, she cannot be part of the Progressive International.

I’m saying that because, you know, now everybody can be pro-Julian, everybody can pretend that they were part of this movement. Even the Labour Party under my very, very dear friend and comrade Jeremy Corbyn, they would not pick up the phone when I called them to seek the support of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn for Julian. I’m saying this because our memory is necessary to be preserved as a bulwark against what will happen next to other comrades, to other freedom fighters like Julian Assange. And when I say other, I mean other.

The Australian Prime Minister is presenting himself as a good guy who’s helped: No, he hasn’t, no he hasn’t at all. The only reason why Biden has relented was because he’s losing the youth vote as a result of his support of genocide in Gaza. And he wants to make some relatively costless gesture to the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders supporters who voted for him in 2020 and who are probably not going to vote for him now. A costless gesture, that is what it is for him. It’s great that we managed to push him in that direction, but you know, Mr. Albanese, the Australian Prime Minister, in my books, you are guilty. You could have said a year and a half ago to President Biden that if America wants Australia to spend $360 billion dollars on American submarines, the first thing they need to do is drop the charges, not condemn him and take him to the Guam base now.

And speaking of Australia, given that we have managed to work towards the freedom of Julian, what about David McBride? David McBride is another whistleblower who is now inside a high-security prison in Australia. Why? Because he revealed, just like WikiLeaks had revealed, David McBride was the person who exposed the Australian massacre of Afghanis. The Australian soldiers’ massacre of Afghanis. A massacre which was revealed, exposed, there was a royal commission, it found the Australian military guilty of a massacre in Afghanistan because David McBride did expose them. None of them ended up in prison, David McBride is in prison in Australia.

So Mr. Albanese, I look at you in the face and I say shame on you. You have had nothing to do with the remarkable, remarkable developments in releasing our friend and comrade Julian Assange. We need to carry on along the lines of this spirit of solidarity to David McBride, to Boris Kagarlitski, a socialist activist who is being held as a political prisoner in Moscow by Putin’s regime. DiEM25 must show that we’re here for the long term, and Julian, who was with us from the very, very beginning, is simply an inspiration that we are going to take to the Modi fascist regime in India. They’re even thinking of imprisoning Arundhati Roy as we speak.

This is just the beginning of the struggle. It is not the end of the struggle. It’s the end of the beginning of the struggle. So let’s hail Julian’s success, our success in supporting Julian, and let’s mourn together the manner in which European and American journalism has been condemned or will be condemned tomorrow by that kangaroo court in Guam or somewhere in the Pacific. Because that will be an indictment on the freedom of journalism across the world. We will celebrate, we will take the moment to, maybe even have a glass of champagne to celebrate Julian’s freedom as a reminder of the essence of what we are all about as DiEM25, as the Progressive International. We have not allowed even comrades to bend our will and force us to betray Julian. We will not allow them to bend our will and force us to end the defense of other political prisoners and of course, the whole of Palestine.

Carpe DiEM!


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