On June 19, 2017, a diverse group of intellectuals, activists, artists, and other luminaries will speak in support of WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange, at coinciding events all over the world under the banner “First They Came For Assange.” The name is taken from a famous poem by Martin Niemöller, called “First They Came…” about the cowardice shown by German intellectuals who failed to stand up against the Nazi rise to power.
According to the Free Assange Now website, which lists complete details about the events, the purpose of First They Came For Assange is to mark the four year anniversary of the detention of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy, shining a light not only on the specific human rights abuse faced by Assange, but on what his continued persecution means for press freedoms worldwide.
According to CNN, the United States is currently ramping up its efforts to arrest Julian Assange. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has explained that the United States will seek to prove that Assange not only acted as a reporter of the leaked information released on the WikiLeaks website, but that Assange and his organization conspired to obtain the information, specifically mentioning the documents given to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning.
“(WikiLeaks) directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States,” Pompeo said. “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
The ramifications for this could have serious implications for press freedoms. If the United States government can start holding journalists responsible for reporting information simply because the United States government did not want it to be released, there’s really nothing stopping them from going after muckraking journalists under similar situations. Imagine if the Nixon administration had declared Woodward and Bernstein a “non-state hostile intelligence service” who conspired with their sources in the Watergate investigation. Imagine if the Trump administration decided that it wasn’t pleased with a journalist receiving information about a White House leak with potentially damaging consequences for an administration official. The potential for prosecutorial abuse is limitless.
The First They Came For Assange events will be held on June 19, 2017, in Athens, Belgrade, Berlin, Bruxelles, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Milano, Montevideo, Naples, New York, Quito, Paris, Sarajevo, and other cities throughout the world. Julian Assange will be participating via live feed from Ecuador’s embassy in London. Among the speakers will be linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, music legend and author Patti Smith, Slovenian bad boy philosopher Slavoj Žižek, Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Wei Wei, Indian author and political activist Arundhati Roy, legendary composer Brian Eno, Democracy Now journalist Amy Goodman, philosopher Bernard Stiegler, journalist Chris Hedges, and many more, as listed on the event’s website.
Many of these people have spoken extensively about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange before. Writing in the Guardian, Slavoj Žižek explained how WikiLeaks has opened the world’s eyes to the fact that much of what we call freedom is a big illusion.
“Not only have we learned a lot about the illegal activities of the U.S. and other great powers,” Žižek writes. “Not only have the WikiLeaks revelations put secret services on the defensive and set in motion legislative acts to better control them. WikiLeaks has achieved much more: millions of ordinary people have become aware of the society in which they live. Something that until now we silently tolerated as unproblematic is rendered problematic.”
It is unlikely that the speeches made at First They Came For Assange will result in the United States government having a change of heart, but that’s not really the point. A global movement is growing that seeks to challenge the hegemony of the control states that manipulate and batter the world. To just sit back and allow the unjust exercise of power that is the detention of Julian Assange to continue unchecked is simply something that many people can not, and will not, abide.
[Featured Image by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images]