“I’m a journalist doing journalism”, I replied to the two members of the police who were enquiring as to why I was standing outside the Old Bailey in London on an extremely cold January morning.
The female officer who asked me the question then proceeded to try and tell me some statement about Covid regulations that all the police had recited that morning, but I was having none of it.
I cut her off in mid-sentence, and repeated my statement again. This time a little louder and with far more purpose. “I’m a journalist doing journalism!”
I’d been at far too many protests in the last 2 years to know not to engage the police in any sort of conversation at all. Having nearly been arrested on several occasions covering Assange protests, I’d learned not to. As soon as you start answering any questions, you’re far more likely to be moved on under threat of arrest.
The excuse is always the same: “Something something Covid, you’re not a journalist without an NUJ card.”
“And you?” The officer turned her attention to my fiance, standing by my side, as she does at many of the events I cover. I was having none of that, either, so I interrupted again.
“I’m a journalist! Doing Journalism!”
“It’s just that I notice she’s wearing an Assange badge”, she said.
“I also have a couple of Palestinian ones on an’ all!”, my fiance declared, showing her the flags adorning her coat lapel. There’s even a a “Don’t attack Iran” one thrown in there for good measure.
“Would you like her to take them off?” I asked, sarcastically. Well, shouted, really.
This time the two coppers understood there was going to be a scene if they continued, and they both buggered off to try and arrest some other person they deemed wasn’t a proper journalist that day.
To give you some sense of how informed and educated these officers of the law were, at one stage we heard one female PC plod tell another group of plods that “the journalists shouldn’t even be here!”, and they all nodded in agreement.
The irony that we were outside the Old Bailey covering the biggest case of press freedom the world has ever scene was not lost on us, even if these particular “officers of the law” were oblivious to it.
Inside the court, a journalist who has been nominated for the nobel peace prize 8 times, Julian Paul Assange, was learning that he wasn’t about to be extradited to the United States for a kangaroo trial after all. The judge, Baraitser, had decided that if we were to extradite Assange to the United States that there was a high chance of Julian being Epsteined.
Sorry. I mean, there would be a high chance of suicide. The US have said they will appeal.
Cue huge celebrations outside the court by the few Assange supporters who had remained and managed to avoid the police, as well as a few who had returned to the area after being given a final warning to join in the celebrations.
You can see me in the above video in my woolly hat, hugging the people around me. I was still in shock, to be honest. I’d fully expected this day to come with terrible news, that the country I live in and love was about to ship Julian Assange, a journalist, off to another country he has never set foot in and near-certain death because he proved the largest superpower the world had ever seen, was actually a bloodthirsty global cabal run by war criminals.
But as welcome as the news that Assange would not be extradited was, the conclusions the judge made when concluding the trial were still chilling for free speech and the 4th estate in the UK.
Firstly, Assange is still not yet free. His bail hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, but there are high hopes he will be released then. Secondly, by ruling against extradition purely on mental health grounds, the judge had set a precedent. The UK judicial system SUPPORTS the US governments’ position on every point of law made during the trial. The UK supports a clearly unequal extradition treaty which undermines press freedom, freedom of speech and indeed, the truth.
This means that the UK legal system will ignore any arguments a journalist makes for publishing classified US documents including political motivation, political offense, unfair US trial system the public’s right to know or freedom of speech.
And boy do we see that decision being echoed outside the court in the behaviour of the police. They are plainly using Covid regulations, rammed through by a rogue Tory government, to break up protests and any questioning of power. You don’t need to be a genius to figure that out. And the problem with that, of course, is it makes people questioning the authoritarian way the police treat them think Covid must therefore be a hoax.
It’s not, of course. But you can hardly blame people who’ve been lied to their whole lives from thinking they’re being lied to again. Especially when an authoritarian police force use a global virus as an excuse to start arresting any person they see protesting or decide isn’t an official journalist because he or she doesn’t work for a corporate outlet with a history of lying and promoting wars.
Take a look at how one independent journalist friend of mine has been treated these last few months when covering Assange events:
The above video is indicative of how the authoritarian UK police force treat independent journalists. Joe Brack, another independent journalist friend of mine, was arrested a few weeks ago while covering the regular Assange Piccadilly protest. An arrest especially embarrassing for the MET, since Joe is police liaison officer for the Julian Assange Defence Committee.
In contrast, the police treat the corporate media with a respect they hardly deserve. They had hardly reported on the case for 18 months, and for once our so-called 4th estate actually showed up to the Old Bailey to report on Baraitser’s decision.
The police totally ignored them. At one stage they even harrassed Joe threatening to arrest him once more. It wasn’t until Joe produced a business card he’d got from a reporter at CNN and told the police he was freelancing for them, that they finally left him alone.
Remember of course, that the corporate media our police treat oh-so respectfully, are the same media which promoted every lie the intelligence community could spin about Assange for a decade. It’s the independent journalists who have been telling the truth about Assange, and it is they whom the police are targeting, telling them they are not journalists.
I guess we should wear it as a badge of honour really, since Assange has this same thing said about him.
The police-approved mainstream media, on the otherhand, just as they weaponized anti-Semitism against a lifelong anti-racist in Jeremy Corbyn, and weaponized racism against immigrants fleeing to these shores from countries we are helping destroy, well they weaponizing rape on behalf of war criminals to smear and enable the psychological torture of a journalist who told us nothing but the truth. None of them are talking about “charges” in Sweden any more, are they?
They’ve labeled him everything from a hacker to a rapist to a man who smears shit on walls. Yet these are the “journalists” who our police treat with respect?
There’s no doubt in my mind that on Wednesday, when Julian Assange is hopefully freed on bail, that we will see similar tactics by the police outside Westminster magistrates court. They will be there, arresting and intimidating any person who has the gaul to show up in support of a free press and free speech, “because Covid!”
If Julian is freed on bail, it will be a joyous occasion. But the only reason our judiciary will have blocked it will be the barbaric extent of the US for-profit mass incarceration system. It won’t be because justice was done by a long shot.
And the way the authoritarian way our police are cracking down on journalists who are telling the truth is a sign that this is not the beginning of the end some seem to think it is, it is only the end of the beginning.
The battle is almost won, but the war is far from over.