An Inquiry to Canadian Media Re: The Continued Imprisonment of Journalist Julian Assange

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That this journalist and publisher is being tortured is neither opinion nor hyperbole but is the conclusion of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer based on his May 9, 2019 physician accompanied visit to Assange. The prisoner's condition of confinement, almost complete isolation inside the prison and denial of communication with the outside world, has not improved since.

Melzer's subsequent reporting on his visit and the ramifications it holds for both Assange and the concept of international law is unambiguous and damning. And yet no less a body than the CAJ has issued not a single word on this case since past-president, Karyn Pugliese's laudable April 12, 2019 criticism of Assange's forcible removal from sanctuary in Ecuador's London Embassy, (itself a contravention of international legal norms and convention) and voiced support of other organizations calling for throwing out the U.S. extradition petition against him. That this is a larger matter than merely justice being served for one man is obvious, as Britain's National Union of Journalists general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet reminds,

"If this extradition is allowed, it will send a clear signal that journalists and publishers are at risk whenever their work discomforts the United States government. Media freedom the world over will take a significant backward step if Julian Assange is forced to face these charges at the behest of a US president."


Now, I don't believe it my place to either lecture or instruct those named, most of whom I'm certain are well aware of the moral, legal, and ethical portents of this case. Nor do I wish to blame, chastise, or pass judgement on the abrogation of journalistic principles, as elucidated in the CAJ 'Ethics Guidelines', the continued silence on Assange constitutes. Instead, it is my most urgent hope that there exists among Canada's media membership enough willing to sign on to a broad and public denunciation of both the arrest and appalling condition of his imprisonment in an effort to move the CAJ to reiterate and expand on its earlier call on his behalf. It is not too late for the CAJ and Canadian journalists to follow the lead of Britain's NUJ, and PEN, the CPJ, RSF and many other prominent international organizations in condemning the silence of the Canadian government and respective authorities for their failure to adhere to international legal covenants that demand in their fulfilling both the recognition of Julian Assange as a political prisoner and enacting of his immediate release.

Every day that passes with our colleague still held is an outrage against justice and the "Rule of Law" Canada professes to support. It serves too to reinforce the existential threat to journalists generally and the work journalism bodies like the NUJ, and PEN and the CAJ were established to champion. Already attacks against journalists abroad, as seen in Gaza on this date, and in the United States over the last few years are sharply rising as the profession and its practitioners in the field are seen as soft targets to be assailed with impunity by increasingly authoritarian state actors. 

This sad fact is arguably made possible because public support for media has waned. Decisions made over years by editors, publishers, and broadcasters to maintain government access at the cost of abandoning journalistic tenets of the kind found within CAJ's Ethics Guidelines has led to the crisis of credibility the industry now faces. Continued acquiescence to those same powers in this most egregious example of Law Fare against one of their own can only erode public trust further. I believe this corrosive effect can be ameliorated to some degree, and that breaking the woeful silence on Julian Assange's unjust imprisonment could be a move toward restoring the diminished standing of at least one of the tottering pillars of our democratic society.

Again, I urge CAJ member-journalists, and those outside freelancers, independent producers, bloggers, podcasters, college radio reporters, and citizens who would not consider themselves "journalists" but who do the work of promoting truth and justice through social media to make representation to their readership, listeners, colleagues, and governments to bring redress for a political prisoner serving hard time right now for upholding the People's right to know the crimes being committed by those in power, and so far held beyond the reach of justice.

 

Sincerely,

Chris Cook

Pacific Free Press/Gorilla Radio
Canadian Association of Journalists (member)

 
For those interested in my story and wondering who I am to make such an inflammatory introduction: I produce and host Gorilla Radio, a public affairs program broad/webcast from the studios of CFUV at the University of Victoria. I also serve as managing editor to the news aggregator site, Pacific Free Press.com. Both are marginal efforts, rightly referred under the rubric of "citizen journalism". Despite these modest platforms, PFP boasts more than 12,000 articles, dating back to 2006, while Gorilla Radio has since 1999 recorded better than 2,000 interviews covering 1,100+ episodes. Guests of the show consist of authors, scientists, jurists, filmmakers, activists of all description, journalists, and even a few politicians.
Some past guests include: Jennifer Abbott, M. Shahid Alam, Joel Bakan, Maude Barlow, Ramzy Baroud, Christopher Black, John Boncore, Stefanie Brendl, Helen Caldicott, Silver Don Cameron, Stevie Cameron, Noam Chomsky, Paul Cienfuegos, Finian Cunningham, Radhika Desai, Joe Emersberger, Yves Engler, Laura Flanders, Glenn Greenwald, Denis Halliday, John Helmer, Julia Butterfly Hill, Robert Hunziker, Mel Hurtig, Kim Ives, Dahr Jamail, Robert Jensen, Chalmers Johnson, Malalai Joya, Kathy Kelly, Naomi Klein, Michael C. Klein, Seth Klein, Dan Kovalik, Dimitri Lascaris, Ingmar Lee, Dave Lindorff, Stefania Maurizi, Linda McQuaig, Nils Melzer, Sharmine Narwani, Michael Parenti, John Pilger, John Ross, Richard Sanders, Danny Schechter, Vandana Shiva, David Swanson, Andre Vltchek, Andy Worthington, Howard Zinn and many others.
Some of these you likely recognize while others are more obscure, but every one represented an important issue and related a story the corporate and state press left either under-reported, or not reported at all. Gorilla Radio began examining the stories told to justify war against Yugoslavia and has followed since the unbroken series of wars and interventions, many rationalized through R2P, or the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, (famously pioneered in Canada). This so-called doctrine I believed then constituted an obvious war crime under international law and would lead necessarily to humanitarian disaster wherever it was invoked. I believe the last twenty years has proven that fear well-founded, and yet it is still difficult to find condemnation of its disastrous reiterations in the press. 

As with the destruction of the Former Yugoslavia, the corporate/state presses remain largely silent on the crimes committed by Western governments, presenting instead claims of "humanitarian" goals as credible despite the burning remnants created of the cities of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. This failure of journalism led not only to the crisis of trust plaguing the press, but has also fostered cynicism and mistrust of all our society's institutions. The near sole exception to this rule of media silence on the truth behind these illegal wars waged for the entirety of this century was WikiLeaks. Julian Assange and that organization undertook at great personal risk the task of exposing the ultimate criminality behind the wars conducted for the profit of corporations and their elite investors. And for that he's been imprisoned and Wiki:Leaks pushed to the margins, while those premier news outlets, the ones that chiefly profited from WikiLeaks, are silent. Cracking the facade of silence maintained by the mainstream, if only minutely, was why I began and continue to work on Gorilla Radio.

 

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