The night falls in the evening lands, the Assange epic conference (review)

Today, I attended an excellent, uplifting and informative conference. The Night Falls in the Evening Lands, The Assange Epic conference, held on Saturday, March 9, 2024, at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, focused on the plight of Julian Assange and issues related to human rights, freedom of the press, and international law. The main topics covered at the conference included:

  • The extradition case against Julian Assange and threats to press freedom
  • Human rights concerns around Assange’s treatment and potential extradition to the U.S.
  • The role of WikiLeaks in exposing government wrongdoing and promoting transparency
  • Debates around the scope of the Espionage Act and its use against journalists and publishers
  • The future of investigative journalism in an era of government secrecy and crackdowns on whistleblowers
  • Australia’s role in standing up for the rights of Assange as an Australian citizen

The conference brought together experts, activists, lawyers, and journalists to discuss Assange’s case and its broader implications. Speakers examined the legal complexities of the U.S. extradition request, the concerning precedent it could set for journalists worldwide, and the need to protect the public’s right to know about government activities.

Con Pakavakis (Speaker), John Shipton (speaker and Julian’s father), and Joseph Camilleri (Speaker and organiser)

Some of the key speakers at the conference included:

  • Yanis Varoufakis is a Greek economist, academic, politician, author, and co-founder of the DiEM25 movement. He served as Greece’s Finance Minister in 2015.
  • Dr Emma Shortis, a senior researcher at The Australia Institute, is a historian and writer focused on U.S. history, politics, and foreign policy. She is the author of “Our Exceptional Friend: Australia’s Fatal Alliance with the United States.”
  • Craig Mokhiber is an American lawyer and former UN human rights official. He served as Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1992 to 2023. Mokhiber specialised in international human rights law, policy, and methodology during his 30-year UN career.
  • John Shipton is Julian Assange’s father and a tireless campaigner for his son’s freedom. He regularly speaks out against the U.S. extradition case and advocates for Assange’s release.
  • Mary Kostakidis (moderator): Prominent Australian journalist and political commentator. Former SBS World News presenter. In 2011, as chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation, she Awarded Julian Assange the Sydney Peace Medal.
  • Dr Binoy Kampmark is an academic, columnist, and former WikiLeaks Senate candidate in Victoria alongside Julian Assange in 2013. He has written extensively on WikiLeaks, Assange’s case, and the U.S. extradition efforts.
  • Joseph Camilleri OAM – Emeritus Professor at La Trobe University, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and recipient of the Order of Australia Medal. He focuses on international relations, security studies, and dialogue.
  • Anne Orford is a Melbourne Laureate Professor and Chair of International Law at Melbourne Law School. She researches international law, dispute settlement, economic law, climate change, and geopolitics.
  • Greg Barnes is an Australian barrister and legal advisor to Julian Assange. He is a spokesperson for the Australian Assange Campaign. Barnes has represented Assange in his legal battles and advocated for his release. He is an outspoken critic of the U.S. extradition efforts and threats to press freedom posed by Assange’s prosecution.
  • Alastair Crooke is a British diplomat, former MI6 officer, and founder of the Conflicts Forum, an NGO facilitating dialogue between Islamist movements and the West. He writes on geopolitics and Western foreign policy for various publications and is the author of “Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution” .
Professor Anne Orford used the term “Imperial Law” to describe the US in the Assange case.

Overarching theme

The overarching theme of the Night Falls conference was a critique of the United States as an imperial power that overreaches in its attempts to extend jurisdiction beyond its borders. Many speakers referred to the U.S. as an “empire” and argued that the extradition case against Julian Assange represents an alarming example of this imperial overreach.

Melbourne University Professor Anne Orford framed this in terms of “imperial law” – the idea that powerful countries like the U.S. seek to impose their laws and will on other nations in an imperial fashion. The prosecution of Assange under the U.S. Espionage Act for publishing classified information is seen as the U.S. government attempting to criminalise national security journalism globally.

Yanis Varoufakis

Greek economist and former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, a long-time friend and supporter of Assange, gave a talk titled “Lessons Julian Taught Me.” He praised Assange’s ethics and argued that the case against him was fundamentally about the U.S. empire’s desire to control information and prevent the exposure of its misdeeds worldwide. Varoufakis situated Assange’s persecution within a broader context of political power.

Australian barrister Greg Barns, a legal advisor to Assange, emphasised how the U.S. government is essentially claiming universal jurisdiction in the Assange case. He argued that this represents a dangerous precedent where any journalist in any country could be prosecuted under U.S. law for revealing information the U.S. government wants to hide. Barns has been a loyal advocate for Assange for over a decade.

The audience listening to Greg Barns discuss human rights and the rule of law

A common refrain from speakers was that the Australian government needs to do more to protect Assange as an Australian citizen and journalist. There was a strong sentiment that Australia has failed to stand up to its U.S. ally and has left Assange vulnerable to the overreach of the American imperial security state. Some suggested that Australia could use its leverage, such as in AUKUS security pact negotiations, to secure better treatment for Assange.

Other speakers drew connections between Assange’s case and broader issues of U.S. imperial power, from its military interventions to its economic and cultural dominance. Overall, the conference represented a meeting of minds between Assange supporters who viewed his case as symbolic of the dangers posed by U.S. power. Speakers called for resistance to imperial overreach and for the Australian government to take a more assertive stance. The conference grappled with the realities of a world order primarily shaped by U.S. power and the severe difficulties faced by those who, like Assange, directly challenge that power.



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