On March 28, Julian Assange, Editor of Wikileaks, had his internet disconnected by the Ecuadorian government, shutting down his communications with the outside world. US based journalist Elizabeth Lea Vos, Editor-in-Chief of Disobedient Media, who was one of the panellists at an online vigil held for Assange hours after the imposition of the ban, talks to Eresh Omar Jamal of The Daily Star, about the latest restrictions placed on Assange and its implications for press freedom around the world.
Why did the Ecuadorian government decide to shut down Julian Assange's internet access at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and not allow him any visitors?
The Ecuadorian government released a statement on why they had Julian Assange's embassy internet connection cut off. It said that Assange's recent behaviour on social media had “put at risk the good relations [Ecuador] maintains with the United Kingdom, with the other states of the European Union, and with other nations.” Basically saying that Assange had broken an agreement not to interfere in the affairs of a foreign state.
Kim Dotcom [a friend of Assange] instantly surmised that Ecuador had bowed to pressure from Spain in response to Julian's ardent support for the Catalonian people to have the right to self-determination. Wikileaks confirmed via Twitter that this was the issue in question, narrowing it down to one factually correct Tweet Assange had sent, comparing the arrest of the Catalonian president with a historical arrest by the Gestapo, both at the behest of Spain. It further said that Ecuador had demanded “that he remove” the Tweet that I mentioned.
What are the implications of such a decision, especially in regards to press freedom?
The implications of this decision are that the human rights of an arbitrarily confined political prisoner are now negotiable according to Ecuador. This is a horrific precedent to set and cannot be tolerated. Ecuador has stood up to international pressure for years in their protection of Assange, and to bow to pressure from Spain in this instance is very sad to see. It also demonstrates Assange's selflessness. He would have known very well that Ecuador is close to Spain, yet he spoke out continually in defence of the Catalonian people without pause. This type of selflessness was also evident when Assange rescued Edward Snowden from Hong Kong, as mentioned by many on the panel.
Julian Assange's isolation represents not only an attack on his human rights, on his right to free speech and to contact his loved ones, but is also a direct attack on his ability to function as a journalist. So Ecuador's decision is also an attack on press freedom. Assange is a citizen of that country and has been given diplomatic immunity. Ecuador demeans itself when it treats its citizens in this manner.
Julian is just one man, one journalist, yet we saw an incredible furore across the internet in response to the Ecuadorian government's decision. Why is that?
Assange represents and brings people the truth about the operation of their governments. Everyone is harmed when that truth is silenced. He is also one of the strongest anti-establishment or anti-imperialist voices in existence. He has huge support from those outside the plutocratic class. Assange brings factual documents to light with unblemished accuracy, so anyone who prioritises truth above ideology supports him and his work. He inspires genuine support across partisan lines among everyone who loves truth. The vigil was a microcosm of that.
It had amazing participants such as former CIA analyst and daily morning briefer for numerous US presidents, including President John F Kennedy, Ray McGovern, former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou, journalists Caitlin Johnstone, HA Goodman, Cassandra Fairbanks and many other incredibly talented and highly respected individuals. Together we spent 10 straight hours live-streaming the event which was one of the most positive experiences of my life. The love for Julian that everyone shared was incredible, which again illustrated that he truly brings out the best in people.
Can you tell us how he is doing from any communication that you may have had with him?
I haven't had any communications with Assange, and he doesn't have the means to communicate with anyone right now to my knowledge. Cassandra Fairbanks, who had last visited him at the embassy on Thursday, let us know during the #ReconnectJulian vigil that he does have his lawyers with him, and that they are not considered “visitors”. All other visitors are banned from contacting him—through phone calls or the internet.
She said he appeared to be in good spirits, seemed sharp and smart, as he usually does, and as he presents himself to the public.
What can journalists and others do to help support Julian Assange and also press freedom?
Journalists everywhere should do everything in their power to report on this latest development concerning Assange, especially those anti-establishment and truly independent journalists who would scarcely be able to function in the absence of the evidence Wikileaks provides for them and the rest of the world.
I know that an amazing group of activists are outside the embassy right now who are peacefully protesting the ban and showing their support for Assange, and I would encourage anyone who is in the UK to consider going to the embassy to literally stand with Assange during this difficult period. Another extremely powerful method of showing support is to help Wikileaks financially—for Assange's legal defence fund.
Sharing information about Assange and the information he has provided on social media across all platforms is just as important and effective, as we know that all legitimate news surrounding Assange and Wikileaks receives a massive amount of censorship. As Kim Dotcom said during the online vigil, everyone should speak directly to their friends and family to explain the situation that Assange is in and why it is so critical that he receives full support from the public.