#FreeJulianAssangeNOW!

#FreeAssangeNOW #21magazine

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On 20 May, Julian Assange will be granted the opportunity of a hearing before the UK Supreme Court. After this hearing, a decision will be made on whether Assange will be allowed to use further opportunities before the court in the UK to prevent his deportation to the USA, where he would face 175 years in prison and probably a similar fate to that of Alexei Navalny. In the following interview, his brother Gabriel Shipton explains, what is really at stake in these proceedings and why the United States of America is making an example of Assange. Because of this hearing I decided to publish the interview with Gabriel Shipton in the upcoming EINUNDZWANZIG-Magazine in english in advance.

INTERVIEW: NetDiver ILLUSTRATION: mx12ART PHOTOS: Niels Ladefoged

Hello, Mr. Shipton, and thank you very much for this meeting. When I was preparing for this conversation, our mutual contact asked me to switch to the Signal messenger. Is that your preferred messenger for private conversations? Yes, I’ve been using Signal for years. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for certain communication. However, I am aware that nothing is secure on my mobile devices.

Would you confirm Edward Snowden’s statement that Signal is the safest messenger to preserve one’s privacy? As I mentioned before, it’s not perfect. It requires a phone number, which doesn’t work for everyone. But it’s still better than other apps designed for commercial purposes.

Will this remain the case, especially after Europe mandated widespread chat control, or are peer-to-peer tools like „SimpleX“ or „Keet“ better suited to protect privacy? Yes, tools like Keet will spread over time, especially due to the peer-to-peer aspect. I’m not familiar with European laws, but we should not stop advocating for our right to privacy and encrypted communication. I think understanding is growing, and the arguments of those who want to take away these rights from us are no longer valid. People are becoming aware that it’s all about surveillance. Movements resisting these surveillance tendencies are growing because people now realize the consequences of widespread surveillance.

The argument „If you have nothing to hide, you don’t need privacy protection“ is societally disastrous. Agree? Yes, that’s simply nonsense.

It’s like saying, „We don’t need freedom of speech because I have nothing important to say.“

I hear this argument repeatedly, but only from people who don’t understand that privacy is a right.

Can we still protect our privacy, and how? Or is this battle already lost? What tools would you use to protect yourself from an all-encompassing surveillance state? There are many tools to hide your online presence, but many are not easy to use. PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is still a good tool, old but still useful. But if you want really good privacy, you need to be technically savvy. If you want to remain anonymous, you can also use pseudonyms, different identities, for example, a business and a private identity.

But to truly protect your privacy, you might as well go to the woods and leave your digital devices at home because in cities, cameras with facial recognition are widespread.

But ultimately, there is no way around everyone fighting for their privacy, resisting surveillance, and engaging in the political process.

Is George Orwell’s 1984 a novel or already a reality? Well, some aspects of it are now hard to overlook. Censorship and a kind of „memory hole“ are increasingly being executed. Manipulating the past, altering history books, controls the present, and controlling the present governs the future. This is becoming more of a reality. Especially digitally stored history can and is already being changed with the push of a button. In Soviet times, they had to remove pages from history books; today, it only takes the delete key.

Julian already said that Bitcoin has the ability to break this dictum. Bitcoin’s distributed ledger is immutable because it is decentralized. This gives us the ability to reclaim our past in a way because it becomes immutable through an entry in the time chain. People are now using Bitcoin to store information forever, and this information is distributed across thousands of nodes. While we are on the path to all-powerful surveillance states, there are still ways and technologies to resist.

For example, there is an interesting project, which can be found at projectspartacus.org. It is a community project where WikiLeaks articles are written into the Bitcoin blockchain so that they are stored there forever and cannot be changed. Small projects like these can help prevent the Orwellian nightmare.

#FreeAssangeNOW #21magazine

In the #FreeAssange advertisement in the 21magazine, we quote Snowden with the following sentence: „When exposing a crime is treated like a crime, we are being ruled by criminals.“ Are we ruled by criminals, and do we not want to admit it? There are undoubtedly criminal elements at play. I believe more and more people are becoming aware of this. Many of these people who influence governments or collaborate with them were not elected by the people and are firmly entrenched in their positions. With these offices and mandates, they exert permanent influence on nation-states around the globe. These people operate in the dark, behind closed doors. I do think there is a lot of criminal conspiracy going on.

Julian exposed this in 2005. These conspiracies of elite agents, media conglomerates, and governments collaborating to reward themselves instead of representing and strengthening our rights. That’s why WikiLeaks was created, to expose such plots. Julian knew that these machinations can only be done in secret. They have to hide their criminal dealings from us because they know that if we all find out, it makes us angry, and we would resist. With WikiLeaks, Julian created a leaking point to protect journalists who want to bring such dealings to light, to increase the cost of these secret agreements and make them inefficient. And precisely because he increased the effort for such dealings with WikiLeaks, Julian is now locked up in a high-security prison. Because he found a way to bring such machinations to the public.

Today, we see that legacy media has lost its credibility. They now have the lowest level of trust since mainstream media exists. And this is due to what Julian did by making us aware of this criminal network. 

Since your brother is being pursued by American intelligence, you and your family must surely feel constantly monitored. How do you deal with it if you don’t want to go crazy or get sick? First and foremost, by ignoring it. We know it’s happening. But it is what it is. Nevertheless, we don’t let it stop us from doing what we do.

When I became aware last year that all of you would be appearing at the PlanB Forum in Lugano to advocate for Julian Assange’s concerns, I was very impressed. Now, during the second edition, we are meeting for this conversation. Does it deceive me, or do only a few organizers dare to approach this topic? It’s increasing. Whenever we are at such events, we are approached by other Bitcoin organizers if we want to do something with them. But the amount of content about Julian impresses me every time. Here, for example, we have art objects with Snowden and Julian, many good conversations. So, there are many different ways to connect with people.

Our appearances at such conferences also benefit the organizers because we bring visitors. Sometimes we think supporting Julian is like a kind of test, where you find out if someone is genuine or not. Anyone who supports Julian supports and demands his release.

In the German-speaking region, there is hardly anything to be found about the Assange case in legacy media. It feels like the topic is being hushed up. How can it be that violations of basic human rights and constitutional rights are internationally politically and media ignored and overlooked, especially in democracies? For a long time, the media supported Julian’s extradition, willingly spreading lies about Julian, demonizing him, discrediting his character, which put him in the situation he is in today. So now, it’s probably better for them to bring nothing.

They were directly involved in demanding his extradition for many years, over ten years.

I think it takes a lot for such media conglomerates to realize what they have done, harming Julian. However, they also lost their power over society. We now see a little more reporting on Julian; some media are beginning to investigate the case a bit. But Julian wouldn’t be where he still is today if they supported him much more and did this kind of work. We see a bit more, but it’s very restrained.

„Freedom of speech“ is guaranteed in America by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Julian has been in custody for 13 years and has to be extradited to America because he released a video showing American soldiers knowingly violating human rights by shooting from a helicopter at Afghan civilians, school children, and a father who shielded his child. What crime is your brother accused of? Telling the truth. Revealing the truth about war crimes and corruption. Bringing information to the public about what governments do behind the backs of their populations. His crime was to expose such machinations.

The decision to publish this incriminating film on WikiLeaks not only fundamentally changed Julian Assange’s life but also that of his entire family. This is, among other things, the content of the film „ITHAKA,“ in which the audience is brought closer to the human aspects within the family. Is Julian consciously dehumanized? Yes, absolutely. What happened to Julian would not have been possible without systematically dehumanizing him beforehand. One of the most striking examples is how the «Guardian» was involved in the plan to get Julian out of the Ecuadorian Embassy. Many rumors about Julian were spread, such as him letting his cat starve in the embassy or smearing feces on the embassy walls and not cleaning the toilet. All these stories were written to make Julian appear inhuman. This served to negatively influence readers‘ opinions about Julian to get him out of the embassy. There are many such examples that show how closely the media worked with authorities to achieve Julian’s extradition. They used any means, whether legal or illegal.

Mr. Assange has been in Belmarsh prison in isolation since 2019 and faces the prospect of daily extradition to the USA. What is more terrible, the thought of Assange’s extradition and the prospect of 175 years in prison, or the prospect that your brother will break due to inhumane prison conditions in England? Well, in the UK, he feels strong support. He gets family visits and can make phone calls, so he still has a connection to the outside world. This keeps him going. If he were to be extradited, that would be taken away from him as well. That would be the reality; they would completely cut off his contact with the outside world. We would no longer hear anything about what they are doing to him. People from the American establishment called for his execution. He would not be safe.

What is the current situation? What is his daily life like in this high-security prison, together with convicted murderers, and how is his health? His health is steadily deteriorating. As you can imagine, the prison he is locked in is not a good environment for anyone. He is extremely isolated, spending most of his time in his small cell. But these few contacts with his family are crucial for him. If they were taken away from him, I would really worry about him.

You have repeatedly emphasized that Assange’s condition has worsened after four years of solitary confinement, worse than during the seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he was under constant surveillance. Can you elaborate on that? Yes, he has been in a steadily deteriorating state since that time. At the beginning, when he came to prison, he faced really bad conditions, much worse than today. He was in solitary confinement 24 hours a day. This had a significant impact on his health. They claimed they were protecting him from himself with this measure, to prevent him from committing suicide. They took away all his clothes. It was terrible. That was in 2019. Since then, his conditions have improved somewhat. This was only possible because other prisoners in that prison advocated for him. They saw how he was being treated and lobbied with the government on his behalf to get him out of those conditions.

It wasn’t the lawyers, judges, or politicians who made it happen; it was the prisoners. This is an example that shows that things are slowly changing regarding Julian. It doesn’t come from the top; it grows from below.

Pressure is increasing from ordinary people who increasingly understand what is happening to Julian. They are advocating for his release.

England, with these conditions of detention, violates existing human rights? Yes, they certainly do. The UN has determined that he is being psychologically tortured. Already in 2016, a UN working group stated that Julian had been arbitrarily detained. In 2018, they complained that the UK ignored all these reports. The UN has repeatedly emphasized that Julian’s human rights are being violated.

Julian Assange exposed a crime against humanity on WikiLeaks and is treated as a serious criminal for it. Is this perhaps also a message to other journalists not to do the same as Assange? Is he being used as an example? Exactly, that’s it. He is an example not only for journalists but for anyone who wants to use cryptographic tools on the Internet to publish corruption and abuse of power. The message is, if you do that, you have no rights anymore. We can strip you of any human rights. If you think you have any, we can simply take them away from you. This message is directed at everyone. Julian is known worldwide and has a great influence. The message is, if they can do this to him, they can do it to anyone. Julian is now supported all over the world, especially in Latin American countries, but it doesn’t change their intention to set an example with Julian.

So, it is a very clear message to everyone not to do what Julian did.

According to my research, Mr. Assange is an Australian citizen, so how can he violate American law when he exposes such war crimes? American rights are extraterritorial; they enforce them globally. America demonstrates that they can reach everyone, everywhere. The dangerous and worrying thing about this is that other governments and states see this and realize that they can do the same. What the Americans do gives these regimes protection and legitimacy to do the same. There have been situations where other autocratic regimes have extraterritorially kidnapped. The example of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and dissident, was particularly disturbing. He was murdered in 2018 in the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Istanbul. What happened to Julian gives these regimes protection and legitimacy to do the same.

Stella Assange | Gabriel Shipton | John Shipton

Is freedom of speech and the right to freedom of expression in democratic countries in danger, and what indicates this? Yes, certainly. The most recent example was the „Twitter Files“ that Elon Musk released when he took over the service. Internal documents showing that Twitter corresponded with government organizations to attack individual people, to exclude them from the platform, to censor them, at the behest of the American government and its organizations. What is alarming is that they use AI to target online conversations to act more efficiently and exercise censorship and control. That is what we learned from the files; I think there is certainly much more that we don’t know, and these revelations just scratch the surface. But you can see from these conversations in the Twitter Files that if they do it for that, they will surely do it for other things, which they don’t publish because it is so convenient for them, very easy. They contact these handful of companies that control global communication. These companies act at the request of governments to censor individuals. I find that incredibly frightening, but we are now aware of it, and it is up to us to resist it by using tools like Signal for communication and being aware of this comprehensive surveillance.

Does America have the power to extradite citizens of all countries on this planet, even from a neutral country like Switzerland? Yes, certainly. They have already done it in Switzerland. A few years ago, Russian citizens were extradited from Switzerland. On paper, Switzerland may still be neutral, but it is no longer. It is very closely tied to the American banking system (SWIFT). America, therefore, has a strong influence on the Swiss economy, which it also uses when necessary. So, you are not safe from American influence in any country.

In Switzerland, the legal principle „in dubio pro reo“ (in doubt for the accused) applies. Shouldn’t your brother at least be tried in a country where judges are not subject to European or American law and potentially unbiased? Is this idea naive, and would something like this have been possible at all? What is happening with Julian’s extradition is another form of disclosure. It reveals the corruption within the jurisdictions, the judges, and lawyers. The corruption within the British government regarding Julian’s extradition from Sweden. The way they went about it. Julian’s case is another form of disclosure. It clearly shows how the authorities act, how they use the system to extradite people they don’t like because they are inconvenient and cause them trouble.

What could happen to Julian is that he might get a trial before the European Court of Human Rights. So, there is still a chance that these judges will prove they are impartial and stand for European principles of human rights.

Principles that emerged after the two great wars. Especially after the Second World War when a document for international human rights was drawn up in 1948, for which millions of people died. For documents that are ignored today.

What can we as a society do to ensure that your brother at least gets a fair trial? What measures are you taking to achieve this, and what supposedly realistic goals are you still pursuing? As I mentioned, everything starts from the bottom up. From people who exercise their democratic rights and hold their elected representatives accountable. Call them, visit them, address them about Julian’s case, and exercise their democratic rights. An important part of this is education, gathering information to gain the ability to fight back. It is essential to discuss and share these things with friends and within the family to form alliances and communities to gain the power to advocate for Julian. These communities take their message to government offices and thereby build pressure on the courts not to disregard existing rights. This kind of protest grows from the bottom up.

What gives you the strength to continue believing in justice after so many years? The people we meet, with whom we speak, all our supporters, keep us going and continue to fight. We wouldn’t stop anyway, but without this support, we wouldn’t be in places like this. We draw strength and resources from all these people. It would be much more difficult without people like you, without conversations like the one we are having.

We are talking here during a Bitcoin conference. What fascinates you about this movement? Well, WikiLeaks and Bitcoin emerged from the same ideology; they have a common foundation. The same philosophy, namely using technology to make the world a better place. So, there is a great affinity, a great commonality with the Bitcoin community and Julian’s struggle. Bitcoin decentralizes money and gives people power back. WikiLeaks did the same with information, with investigative journalism. It took power away from centralized media corporations and gave it back to the people. Before that, this information remained behind the doors of companies, hidden from the public. Julian took away that power. Bitcoin does something similar; it takes away power from central banks and gives it back to the people.

In 2011, WikiLeaks was extrajudicially banned from the banking system. Overnight, it became illegal to pay out donations to WikiLeaks. Simply because a few people in the United States decided and picked up the phone to cut WikiLeaks off from the financial system. PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, all were instructed to block donations to WikiLeaks. Even Julian’s own private bank account was closed without prior notice. So, WikiLeaks switched to Bitcoin; it was the first case where Bitcoin was used as uncensorable money. Bitcoin could and can’t be stopped by anyone, not even by the most powerful states.

Bitcoin represents individual freedom, personal responsibility, and censorship resistance. Is this gift from Nakamoto coming too early or too late? Do you think Bitcoin has the power to fulfill the high expectations placed in it? Yes, I believe in it. I don’t think it comes automatically. It’s not perfect yet; it needs much more privacy protection. Snowden has also talked about it; if Bitcoin becomes more private, it can meet the high expectations. Bitcoin has already proven to be a powerful tool. Thanks to Bitcoin, WikiLeaks continued to operate. The community will continue to grow, and I talk to people who are already in this circular economy; they inspire me because they are on a mission. Their stories fascinate me because wherever they are, in the desert, in the jungle, or anywhere else, they use Bitcoin. They are often not technically savvy people; they are people who use Bitcoin because it helps them, it is useful for them.

In your opinion, what does Bitcoin bring? Financial independence, the ability to secure your own money. Especially in journalism, Bitcoin is important so that journalists can make their work independent. It gives you the power to continue because you don’t have to fear that they will steal your money. With Bitcoin, you get immediate more freedom to publish whatever you want. So, I think that’s what Bitcoin brings: the freedom to do what you want and control over your own money.

How can, should we address the danger that users leave their Satoshi on exchanges, and what prevents a similar platformization as with the internet? Interestingly, exchanges like FTX regularly go bankrupt, and that may be the best thing that can happen to people who don’t withdraw their money from these exchanges in time. Because everyone realizes that these centralized organizations are not transparent, and your money doesn’t belong to you as long as it’s on these exchanges. As bad as it is on one side, it might be the best way to educate people about self-custody, to safeguard their funds and not trust any third party.

What distinguishes digital cash from CBDC, and what do you think of central bank digital currencies? It seems like a really good idea, don’t you think? Personally, I think we are all in a situation where people want to decide whether you are allowed to refuel or want to prevent you from buying something they don’t like. But there are already ways in the existing monetary system, such as your credit score or your financial conditions, that determine whether you get a loan or not. They already have control over your financial past. They know if you have children, if you are divorced. They look at your past, not just your financial one but also your personal situation, and decide based on that whether you receive financial support or not. Now, the way I look at CBDC is that it is already here.

So, I think it’s better to make people aware of that and show them Bitcoin as an alternative rather than dealing with CBDC. Because there is already an alternative out there, and people should use it.

If you just give them CBDC, that will lead people to resist more and more by using the Bitcoin alternative. But again, I think Bitcoin needs to improve in terms of privacy. Because if you don’t have privacy, you don’t have real freedom.

How do you think they will sell us the benefits of CBDC from your perspective? They will sell us the ease of use. You get your free Gmail and give us your data; it’s as simple as that. But it’s up to us to use the alternatives. Yes, it’s scary. In China, these tools already exist, but the alternatives are there. We just need to show people that they are usable and work.

In your opinion, who should be interested in Bitcoin? Well, I strongly believe that things change from the bottom up. I see that in our work for Julian. Nothing will change in our favor from the top. I have so much respect for the people working in these communities and with the unbanked. Those who help these people adopt Bitcoin. Show them that they can use it, that it is easier than cash, that they can be their own bank, save their own money, that they can do all this with Bitcoin, which they couldn’t do before. Bitcoin helps them achieve financial independence.

Stella Assange at the PlanB-Forum 2023.

What would you like to tell the German-speaking community at the end? Keep fighting for your rights, don’t be afraid, and don’t give up. Get involved with the many organizations supporting Julian, become members, attend protests, and donate if you can afford it.

I thank you for this conversation and wish Julian Assange, you, and the whole family that justice will prevail in the end.

Hearing Julian Assange, February 2024

Petition Julian Assange, Amnesty International

projectspartacus.org

War diaries, WikiLeaks

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