Challenge what you know: what’s really happening to Julian Assange

London-based Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson has been a legal adviser to Assange and Wikileaks since the start of this decade.

Ms Robinson says the indictment of Assange “sets a terrifying precedent” by “criminalising common journalistic practices which have been used towards the public interest for decades in the United States”.

In November 2019 she spoke at public meetings organised by PEN Sydney and Melbourne centres. Here she talks with Quentin Dempster about the realities of the charges Assange faces and the implications for press freedom.

PEN Melbourne Statement on Iran

Mammad Aidani

Iran – Out of sight, out of mind?
PEN Melbourne Statement on Iran, 26 November 2019
Mammad Aidani, PEN Melbourne Committee Member

PEN International has condemned the Iranian government’s persecution of its citizens on the basis of their language,
literature, and culture. Iran is especially notorious for its jailing and torture of writers, such as journalists, Narges
Mohammadi, Mohammad Mosaed, and Masoud Kazemi among many others. The latter was told by the judge at his trial:
‘Your hands should be crushed . . . your pens should be broken’.

More recent events have resulted in hundreds of deaths, yet why have Australians heard so little in the media about
what has been happening? Is it because the Iranian regime has blocked the Internet, depriving news organisations of
images as well as first-hand accounts of what has been happening? Does out of sight have to mean out of mind?
Iranian citizens want to live in an open, democratic society in which they can work and live in peace. The Islamic regime
(in power since 1979), has never allowed its citizens to experience these basic human rights, and in recent days many
have taken to the streets to fiercely protest against the authorities.

In response to the government’s 50% increase in fuel prices – making life almost impossible for many – demonstrations
began in Ahvaz and quickly spread to over 100 cities in the country. On 19 November, Amnesty International confirmed
that ‘at least 106 protesters in 21 cities have been killed, according to credible reports’. The actual numbers of those
killed or injured by the government forces are not known. Witnesses have indicated that, in the city of Shahriyar alone in
first days of clashes, 70 people were killed, reporting that plainclothes forces in the crowds shot people from behind.
PEN International Melbourne Centre, is deeply concerned about the silence in much of the Australian media in the face
of the tragic events unfolding in Iran. This silence is catastrophic. During the last six days, massacres have been taking
place throughout Iran, and we and the rest of the world need to know why. It is unacceptable that a lack of dramatic
images and ‘talent’ (due to Iranian blocking of the Internet) mean that these atrocities are not fully covered in the media.

The Iranian Islamic Regime has been using extreme violence to deny its citizens the fundamental human right of
freedom of expression for over 40 years. The last six days have been the worst days of these years. The violent clashes
of the last six days between government forces and demonstrators have been happening in over 100 cities without the
presence of international media or access to the Internet. Ayatollah Khamenei has accused demonstrators of being
‘thugs’ who want to destroy the government. Hossein Shariat-Medari, the chief editor of Kyhann daily newspaper has
stated that the murderous response of the regime is legitimate, describing it as a war between believers and infidels.
Without a responsible and fearless media in Australia and elsewhere, it is only the voice of the repressive regime which
is being seen and heard.

Out of sight should not mean out of mind.

We urge the Australian media – as well as the government – to acknowledge and respond to the tragedies that have
been unfolding in Iran at this critical time. The hands of Iranian writers and citizens should not be crushed. Their pens
shall not be broken.


Assange case “sets terrifying precedent”, says lawyer

During a recent visit to Australia, Jennifer Robinson, legal adviser to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, sat down with MEAA to explain the implications for all journalists of the US government indictment against Assange, and why it is important for MEAA members to campaign against his extradition on press freedom grounds.

Assange, faces up to 170 years in jail if extradited, tried and found guilty of espionage charges laid by the United States government.

Assange, who is an Australian citizen and a member of MEAA Media, has been indicted by the US Justice Department with 18 charges under the Espionage Act for his role in receiving and publishing classified defence documents both on the WikiLeaks website and in collaboration with major publishers including The New York Times, and The Guardian.

Assange is currently an inmate of the Belmarsh Prison in England for unrelated offences, and the US government is expected to begin extradition proceedings next year.

Since Assange’s arrest in August, MEAA has made several representations on his behalf to the Australian and UK governments, urging them to oppose his extradition to the US.

“The extradition of Assange and prosecution by the United States for what are widely considered to be acts of journalism would set a disturbing global precedent for the suppression of press freedom,” MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy and Media section president Marcus Strom said in a letter to both governments in June. Read the letters from MEAA here and here.

MEAA also organised an urgent resolution to be passed at the International Federation of Journalists Congress in Tunisia in June to take Assange’s case to the UN Human Rights Council.

London-based Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson has been a legal adviser to Assange and Wikileaks since the start of this decade.

Ms Robinson says the indictment of Assange “sets a terrifying precedent” by “criminalising common journalistic practices which have been used towards the public interest for decades in the United States”.

“Julian is an Australian citizen, a member of the MEAA, who faces prosecution and extradition to the United States for publishing . . . truthful information about the United States,” she says. “That is a terrifying precedent and will impact on not just the US media but on journalists and news organisations around the world.”

Ms Robinson says the extradition hearing may be drawn out for several years and Assange is grateful for any support for his case from MEAA and its members in the Australian media community.

In a letter dated 25 November 2019, PEN Melbourne and Sydney centres wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon Marise Payne, urging her and the Australian government to reconsider its position on Mr Assange and to speak against his extradition to the United States.

The full text of the letter is available as a pdf on the link below:

Turkey: Decision to re-arrest Ahmet Altan a despicable act

13 November 2019 – In response to an Istanbul court decision yesterday to re-arrest Turkish writer and journalist Ahmet Altan just eight days after he was released from prison, Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, said:

‘Starting in July 2017 Ahmet Altan was put through proceedings marred by violations of his right to a fair trial. Then he was wrongfully detained for three gruelling years. Now he is being sent back to jail a mere eight days after being released. The latter is a despicable act: the facts together paint a dire picture of the Turkish authorities’ unstoppable determination to persecute him. PEN International forcefully calls once again for his immediate and unconditional release.’ 

On 4 November 2019, Ahmet Altan was sentenced to 10-and-a-half years in prison on trumped-up charges of ‘knowingly and willingly assisting a terrorist organisation’. He was released pending appeal, subject to a travel ban. On 6 November, the prosecutor appealed against the court decision on the grounds that Ahmet Altan was a flight risk. The Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No. 27 granted the prosecutor’s request on 12 November; Ahmet Altan was subsequently arrested at his home that evening and is now expected to be sent back to Silivri prison, near Istanbul.

Ahmet Altan has already spent over three years in pre-trial detention, in what amounts to judicial harassment. PEN International calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

For more information about PEN’s campaign on behalf of Ahmet Altan please click here.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail:

Behrouz Boochani welcomed to New Zealand

PEN Melbourne is thrilled that after six years of horrendous detention on Manus Island, highly awarded Kurdish writer Behrouz Boochani has been enthusiastically welcomed on his arrival in New Zealand.

Behrouz tweeted “I just arrived in New Zealand. So exciting to get freedom after more than six years. I have been invited by Word Festival in Christchurch and will participate in an event here. Thank you to all the friends who made this happen.”

Behrouz is in NZ on a visitor’s visa for one month.

PEN International Day of the Imprisoned Writer / Freedom of speech & censorship With Sami Shah, Roza Germian, Samah Sabawi and Mammad Aidani

PEN International Day of the Imprisoned Writer

This is a free event. Bookings are essential and can be booked at the link below.

at The Wheeler Centre

Writers and journalists are often among the first citizens targeted and punished by autocratic leaders. With creeping authoritarianism and instability in many regions around the world, it’s an increasingly dangerous time for writers of all kinds.

On the eve of PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer, we’ll hold a special panel event as part of our Writers in Exile series to discuss old and emerging threats to literary freedoms today.

Host Sami Shah will welcome back the three writers who have shared their personal stories of exile  – journalist Roza Germian, playwright Samah Sabawi and playwright and poet Mammad Aidani – for the last conversation in the series. They’ll discuss their own experiences and their knowledge of press and literary restriction in their respective home countries. They’ll talk, too, about the role Australia can and should play on the international stage with regards to protecting and protesting the freedom of writers here and overseas.

Join us as we talk free minds, free words and free expression today.

Presented in partnership with PEN Melbourne.

This event will be Auslan interpreted. reading

Day Of the Imprisoned Writer Lecture

Tues Nov 19  at 6.30pm to 8.00pm
Venue: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street, Carlton VIC

Produced by PEN Melbourne

Challenge What You Know: What’s really happening to Julian Assange

What’s really happening to Julian Assange? What has Australia done to protect his welfare? And why aren’t we hearing more about the most intriguing and complex threats to liberal democracy of our time?

Jennifer Robinson, counsel to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, will present a talk that considers the questions around the incarceration of Julian Assange and his almost decade long legal struggle. Then, together with Barrie Cassidy she will explore the major issues arising from Julian’s case around free speech and press freedoms that affect us all here in Australia currently.

Jennifer Robinson is an Australian barrister at Doughty Street Chambers in London. She has a broad practice in human rights, media law, public law and international law, representing states, individuals, media organisations, journalists and activists in cases before international, regional and domestic courts. She has a particular focus on free speech and civil liberties. Jen is the longest-serving member of Assange’s legal team.

Barrie Cassidy

Barrie Cassidy was host of the ABC’s flagship political program Insiders for 18 years. Before that he worked as a political correspondent based in Canberra, a foreign correspondent based in Washington and Brussels and was for four years press secretary to prime minister Bob Hawke. Barrie has written three books.

This event made possible through the generosity of PEN Sydney, MEAA, Cultural Fund of Copyright Council and our good friends at LaMama.

 All proceeds go to PEN Melbourne to continue to defend freedom of expression: campaigning on behalf of writers who have been silenced by persecution or imprisonment.

Turkey/Syria: Media and journalists under attack

PEN International strongly condemns attacks against journalists and the ongoing media crackdown following Turkey’s offensive in Northern Syria, and calls on all parties to protect journalists from harm and to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and opinion.

On 9 October 2019, the Turkish armed forces started bombing parts of Northern Syria, controlled by Kurdish-led forces previously allied with the US. The Turkish authorities said they aimed at establishing a 32-kilometre deep ‘safe zone’ and transferring millions of Syrian refugees from Turkey. Kurdish-led forces have since reached a deal with Syrian government forces, brokered by Russia, in a bid to stave off the assault.

According to reports, the Turkish offensive has already led to the displacement of 100,000 civilians and scores of casualties, including summary killings. On 11 October, journalists in South-eastern Turkey said they had been targeted by a sniper attack. On 13 October, two journalists were reportedly killed and several others wounded in a Turkish air raid on a convoy of civilians near Ras al-Ain, Northern Syria.

‘We are appalled by reports of attacks against journalists following the Turkish offensive in Northern Syria. Journalists have the right to carry out their work freely and without fear, particularly in situation of conflicts. We call on all parties to immediately and effectively investigate these crimes and bring all perpetrators to justice through fair trials. We further urge them to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,’ said Emmanuel Pierrat, Chair of PEN International’s Writers for Peace Committee.

In Turkey, the authorities reportedly restricted access to social media platforms and messaging services for 48 hours in at least three cities close to the Turkish-Syrian border as it launched its military assault. On 10 October, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul published a statement banning critical news reports and comments of the offensive and threatening those who dared voice dissent with prison sentences.

Hakan Demir, online editor of BirGün daily, and Fatih Gökhan Diler, news editor of the news website Diken, were both briefly detained on 10 October; Demir for a tweet on the offensive and Diler for a report quoting a spokesperson of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Both were subsequently placed under travel ban.

‘Previous Turkish military operations in Syria have seen hundreds of people being prosecuted for social media posts advocating peace. Turkey remains the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The Turkish authorities must put an end to the media crackdown once and for all and ensure that journalists can operate freely’.

‘Syrian people have already suffered eight long years of bloody violence. As PEN members, we abide by our Charter and pledge ourselves to do our utmost to dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality in one world. We remain deeply concerned about the threat the years-long conflict poses to the safety and security of all people in Syria and to the peace, security, and aspirations of people throughout the region. We call once again on all sides to bring about an end to the conflict in Syria, and to ensure that the rule of law and respect for freedom of expression are fully respected without delay’, added Emmanuel Pierrat.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail:

Spain: Case against Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart should be dismissed

As the trial of writers and Catalan civil society leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart comes to an end, PEN International once again calls on the Spanish authorities to release them immediately and to drop the charges of rebellion and sedition against them.

‘Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart face the possibility of 17 years behind bars for their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. PEN reiterates our demand that charges of charges of rebellion and sedition be dropped and their long detention be brought to an end,’ said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

‘Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart have already spent 20 months in prison. The Spanish judicial authorities have repeatedly refused to release them, with the Constitutional Court rejecting an appeal from Jordi Cuixart as recently as last month. We urge the authorities to release them immediately and to respect their right to peacefully express their opinion,’ added Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Background information

Writers and Catalan civil society leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart were taken into custody on 16 October 2017 on charges of sedition and were subsequently charged with rebellion in March 2018.

They stand accused of calling on protestors to gather in front of governmental buildings in Barcelona on 20 and 21 September 2017 in order to obstruct searches for electoral materials, and for ‘encouraging, supporting and leading’ sedition through participation in Catalonia’s independence referendum on 1 October 2017.

Their trial opened on 12 February and is due to end on 12 June 2019. In total, 12 Catalan leaders involved in the referendum are being tried for rebellion, misuse of public funds or disobeying the state. Spain’s Supreme Court is expected to issue its verdict in the coming weeks.

On 27 May 2019, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention condemned the detention of Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart. It called on the Spanish authorities to release them immediately and to accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law. The authorities rejected the findings of the report.

For more information about PEN International’s position on the case against Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart please see Spain: Excessive charges against Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart must be dropped, available in English as well as Spanish and Catalan.

For further details contact PEN International at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338