On Friday, January 20, progressive groups in the United States will be hosting the third Belmarsh Tribunal in the capital, Washington DC. The 17-member Belmarsh Tribunal is hosted by Progressive International along with the Wau Holland Foundation.
The DC Tribunal will be held at the National Press Club, close to the US Capitol building, which houses the US Congress. The Club was where Assange first screened Collateral Murder over a decade ago. Collateral Murder is 39 minutes of unedited, leaked footage from a gun cam that showed a US military drone attacking Al-Amin al-Thaniyah, a suburb of Baghdad, and killing 12 civilians.
The Tribunal was formed in October 2021 and named after the high-security prison near London where Assange has been held since 2019. He has spent most of this time there under judicial remand, awaiting the conclusion of his extradition trial. The two previous tribunals were held in London and New York, in October 2021 and February 2022 respectively. It seeks to be a space to expose and scrutinize US war crimes, and advocate for Assange’s release.
In the past, prominent progressive leaders and activists have participated in the tribunals, including former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, exiled US whistleblower Edward Snowden, Greek parliamentarian and economist Yani Varoufakis, Guantánamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and Brazilian President Lula da Silva.
The more regular members of the tribunal, which include Assange’s colleagues and his family, have been traveling around the world advocating for the release of Wikileaks founder.
This DC Tribunal will be chaired by Amy Goodman of non-profit news organization Democracy Now! and academic Srećko Horvat. Democracy Now!, Defending Rights & Dissent, Courage Foundation, DiEM25, The Intercept, The Nation, and PEN International are the partners of the Tribunal. It will also be aired live on YouTube by Democracy Now!
The members of the tribunal include Assange’s father John Shipton, his wife and lawyer Stella Assange, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, academic Noam Chomsky, British parliamentarian Jeremy Corbyn, digital rights advocate Renata Ávila, human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, and Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson.
Others include journalist and editor of Shadowproof Kevin Gosztola, Chip Gibbons of Defending Rights, Selay Ghaffar of the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan, investigative journalist Stefanian Maurizi, publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, and ACLU attorney Ben Wizner.
Assange is currently appealing against the UK Home Office’s decision to approve his extradition to the US. If extradited he will face a federal grand jury for 18 charges, 17 of them under the infamous Espionage Act, for exposing US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with various violations of international law.
Assange’s indictment under the Donald Trump administration which has continued under the current administration of Joe Biden, is the first such instance where a publisher has been charged under the Act.
Activists and rights advocates have for long argued that Assange’s imprisonment in the UK and the extradition attempt and indictment by the US has been one of the biggest attacks on press freedom in recent times. “The First Amendment, Freedom of the press, and the life of Julian Assange are at stake,” said Srećko Horvat. “As long as the Biden administration continues to deploy tools like the Espionage Act to imprison those who dare to expose war crimes, no publisher and no journalist will be safe.”
The focus of the upcoming Tribunal will be to compile evidence and testimonies against the ongoing persecution of Assange, while also strengthening a global campaign for his release.
“The Espionage Act is one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation in the world,” said member of the Tribunal Renata Ávila.
While explaining how the Act attacks press freedoms everywhere, she added that the Tribunal will “present evidence of this chilling threat” as it attempts “to unite lawmakers next door to dismantle the legal architecture that undermines the basic right of all peoples to know what their governments do in their name.”