The launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Speech on Saturday 13 February 2021, as reported in Weekly Worker, may prove significant and timely. The conference, with three hundred participants, identified three major issues – the use of smears of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israel, the imprisonment of Julian Assange to intimidate journalists who expose criminal acts and human rights violations and the defence of a democratic culture of open debate in the labour movement.
The following resolution was passed demanding freedom for Assange with overwhelming support.
1. This conference recognises that Wikileaks exposed secret communications and war crimes committed by the US and as a consequence Julian Assange is held as a political prisoner of the UK state. We recognise his treatment is a threat to the freedom of the press and right of citizens to know what is being carried out by the state
2. This conference opposes his extradition to the United States, condemns his cruel treatment in prison and calls for his immediate release from jail.
3. This conference supports the campaign to Free Julian Assange. We urge all participants to raise the demand for his immediate release in Labour Party meetings, trade union branches and community organisation and where possible to link it with the issue of defence of free speech.
I proposed this motion with Matthew Jones from Scotland. We stepped aside to enable Deepa Driver, a member of the UCU executive, Chair of Camden Momentum and a legal observer at the Assange trial to move the motion. The attacks on free speech led to Labour Party members losing their party membership and some losing the their employment. Important though these examples are, the most important cases are journalists losing their lives and or being locked up by dictators or by so-called ‘democracies’.
Chelsea Manning, like Assange, has lost her liberty and must be freed immediately. But the socialist movement in the UK has concentrate on the most important political prisoner held in isolation in ‘our’ high security jail at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Socialists have to convince the working class movement to demand his immediate release from jail and organise protest actions.
In exposing US state secrets, Assange has committed no crime that any democrat recognises. He has acted on our behalf by exposing the information we need as citizens. This case shows the true nature of the British Crown, which supports illegal covert action and masquerades behind a thin veneer of liberal values. Assange is being treated cruelly and inhumanly because he is a political prisoner and therefore cannot get a fair trial. The verdict was already decided by Trump and confirmed by Biden.
The new Labour campaign will take up free speech in the Labour Party but it will have to prove its worth by mobilizing the working class to demand the immediate release from jail. Securing freedom for Assange will be a major victory for the working class in the struggle for freedom of information, free speech and the freedom to publish the truth.
Letter to Weekly Worker 23 February 2021