The mainstream media tells us we live in an age of “hyper-partisanship.” But that’s not what I witnessed outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where populist right-wingers, anti-imperialist socialists, Brexit supporters and even liberals stood united against the political establishment’s seven-year persecution of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.
Protesters from nearly every part of the political spectrum could be found outside the embassy during my three-day expedition, galvanized by reports that Assange may soon be expelled from the building where he has been living under political asylum since 2012.
On Friday, WikiLeaks revealed that two government sources said Assange’s expulsion would be in a matter of “hours or days” leading to a public backlash against the government and the intervention of two UN Special Rapporteurs.
In response to the report from WikiLeaks, Ecuador’s ministry of Foreign Affairs released a menacing statement saying that the revocation of asylum is a “sovereign act” but that his expulsion is not “imminent.” They declined to define what was meant by “imminent.”
With a lack of trust in Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno — who has gagged Assange from practicing journalism and turned the embassy into a proxy prison at the behest of the US government — activists and even some members of the media flocked to stand in support of a free press.
On Saturday afternoon, England’s Yellow Vests and Brexit supporters flooded the area in support of the WikiLeaks publisher. A few steps away from them, also flying the flag for WikiLeaks, was an out-and-proud communist wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, wheeling around a slogan-adorned cart praising Cuban revolutionaries. It was the first sign that both the far-left and the populist right, despite the gulf of their differences, could stand together in support of a free press.
Both leftists and the pro-Brexit right wing crowd chanted “which side are you on” together to the police. They also found common cause in their distrust of the mainstream media, chanting “Fake News BBC” for several minutes – a reference to the notoriously biased British Broadcasting Corporation, the U.K,’s state-backed broadcaster.
Over the next few days, more than one leftist activist told me of their special disdain for BBC reporter John Sweeney, and one even expressed quiet praise for the populist Islam critic Tommy Robinson’s work exposing the BBC in general and Sweeney in particular.
The following day, it was the turn of Latin American leftists to have a show of force. Scattered right-wing activists danced along with an upbeat protest organized by socialist Ecuadorian expats in support of Assange. The group held signs branding Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno a traitor along with banners demanding that the WikiLeaks founder be protected — while standing around Che Guevara flags.
Political divides seemed to evaporate as everyone joined together to chant “only one decision – no extradition!”
Another attendee at the event even had a mobile shrine to Fidel Castro.
Not everyone visibly aligned with the left or right — some were just there to support freedom of the press. A delightful demonstrator wearing a giant cardboard whistle on his head traveled from Belgium and spent much of the weekend outside the embassy, urging the media in attendance to stand with whistle-blowers and their persecuted colleague inside the embassy.
The head-turning whistle-mask man silently held up a message to the press which said, “before you crucify the messenger, think of the nails you may be putting in your own coffin. Thank you for your courage. It is contagious.”
His creative presence drew in many curious onlookers who came over to learn more about Assange’s persecution. Many activists, some of whom have been regularly standing vigil outside the embassy for nearly seven years, were prepared with pamphlets and flyers and a wealth of knowledge to share.
One such supporter, Ciaron O’Reilly, who describes himself as “a non-violent anti-war resister from the Catholic Worker tradition,” has been camped outside the embassy for over 130 days. The long-time supporter is infamous for his fierce defense of WikiLeaks and consistently posts information on social media about happenings at the embassy, keeping other activists updated.
A4/MIDNIGHT Situation extremely Heightened. Expulsion expected in ours or days. Daily Mail reporter +Mail online here. Iam the only #Solidarity activist here. Will try to stay awake through the night. Will require civer/back up to sleep in the morning pic.twitter.com/bvQd0syFXW
— Ciaron O'Reilly (@CiaronOReilly) April 4, 2019
A5/8am #London/#Camden #CatholicWorker24/7Vigil2 #FreeAssange+#FreeManning *UPDATE-"The Day of the Jackals" – huge press pack growing (I don't think it's in #Solidarity with fellow journalist +publisher #FreeAssange!) *2of us here in #Solidarity +1 Alternative #media guy! pic.twitter.com/PpbOncHPfU
— Ciaron O'Reilly (@CiaronOReilly) April 5, 2019
When police presence heats up or things seem unusual, O’Reilly raises the alarm online for more activists and friendly media to head to the embassy — a one-man beacon of Gondor for a persecuted journalist.
Over the past three days, there has been an increase in activity with regular sightings both undercover police officers and armed police in the vicinity of the embassy. They’ve been a persistent presence outside the embassy for the past seven years, but when their activity increases, it’s a sign for pro-WikiLeaks activists to be on the alert — especially amid reports of Assange’s imminent expulsion by Ecuador.
Ruptly has been streaming live since Thursday, and continued to broadcast from outside the embassy after other mainstream media left.