John Shipton, the father of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, poses for a photograph at the Old Bailey Court in London on September 8, 2020. (Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)
The father and brother of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are planning a nationwide tour of the United States next month to advocate for the release of the detained journalist and for the Biden administration to drop its extradition effort—and to highlight the broader implications that his prosecution has for global press freedom.
“The U.S. government wants to make an example out of him to deter journalists and whistleblowers.”
—Gabriel Shipton, Julian Assange’s brother
John and Gabriel Shipton, Assange’s father and brother, will kick off the #HomeRun4Julian tour in Miami on June 6, then travel to over a dozen U.S. cities for the rest of the month, wrapping up in Washington, D.C. in July. Some events will be live-streamed, and the pair plans to meet with activists, journalists, and policymakers along the away.
“My brother Julian Assange has effectively been a prisoner for over a decade because he published evidence of war crimes,” said Gabriel Shipton in a statement Thursday. “The U.S. government wants to make an example out of him to deter journalists and whistleblowers.”
Assange has been held at Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh in London for over two years, since he was forcibly dragged from the Ecuadorian Embassy in the city, where he had sought refuge in 2012. A British judge in January declined the Trump administration’s request to extradite Assange to face charges of violating the Espionage Act, concluding he would be at extreme risk of suicide.
Since taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden has continued to ignore global calls to end the extradition effort and drop all charges. The Department of Justice formally appealed Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s decision in February. Forty-nine-year-old Assange could face up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison if he is extradited to the United States.
“Gabriel and I are excited to talk to the American public on why protecting journalism and freeing Julian is so important to a free press,” said John Shipton, who toured their home country of Australia this month to advocate for his son. “This issue is bigger than just Julian. Freedom of the press in America impacts every part of the world.”
The U.S. tour is sponsored by the Courage Foundation, which was founded in 2013 as the Journalistic Source Protection Defense Fund. Assange is a trustee of the foundation, which supports whistleblowers and other truth-tellers—or “those who risk life or liberty to make significant contributions to the historical record.”
“For the first time in American history, a journalist has been indicted for publishing truthful information in the public interest,” Courage Foundation director Nathan Fuller said of Assange. “That’s why press and human rights groups around the world are in agreement that this is an existential threat to investigative reporting.”
Press freedom advocates last month marked the two-year anniversary of Assange’s arrest by British police by reiterating demands that the Biden administration immediately drop all charges against him. Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, has also long advocated for Assange’s release.
In a December 2020 open letter asking then-President Donald Trump to pardon Assange, Melzer wrote that “I can attest to the fact that his health has seriously deteriorated, to the point where his life is now in danger. Critically, Mr. Assange suffers from a documented respiratory condition which renders him extremely vulnerable to the Covid-19 pandemic that has recently broken out in the prison where he is being held.”
Melzer and the mayor of Geneva are among dozens of people planning to join a June 4 event in the Swiss city to launch the “Geneva Call to Free Assange,” which supporters are promoting online with the hashtag #GVA_FreeAssange.
“The ‘AnythingToSay‘ statue dedicated to whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning as well as to Julian Assange will be installed at the same time on the Pâquis pier in front of the Geneva Jet d’eau,” according to an event webpage. “The Association of Users of the Bains des Pâquis, initiator and organizer of the event, will also present an exhibition on whistleblowers.”