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Neal Romanek/Flickr (CC-BY)
The Ecuadorian government suspended his internet access.
Celebrities and political activists have rallied in solidarity around WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose internet access was abruptly suspended by the Ecuadorian government last week, by signing an open letter demanding that it be restored.
The signatories not only include prominent intellectuals, like Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Zizek, and journalists, but also famous artists. Rapper M.I.A. added her name to the list, alongside filmmaker Oliver Stone, musician Brian Eno, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, and actress Pamela Anderson.
“If it was ever clear that the case of Julian Assange was never just a legal case, but a struggle for the protection of basic human rights, it is now,” the letter reads.
“We ask that his basic human rights be respected as an Ecuadorian citizen and internationally protected person and that he not be silenced or expelled. If there is no freedom of speech for Julian Assange, there is no freedom of speech for any of us—regardless of the disparate opinions we hold. We call on President Moreno to end the isolation of Julian Assange now.”
Supporters Westwood and Anderson have both visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London over recent years, where he has resided since 2012. The WikiLeaks founder had fled there to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he faced an investigation related to allegations of sexual assault.
While denying the allegations, Assange said that he feared an extradition to Sweden would result in an extradition to the U.S. where the Justice Department has been investigating WikiLeaks since 2010.
The Swedish investigation and extradition request has since been dropped, but a British judge ruled in February that Assange would still face arrest by British authorities if he leaves the protection of the embassy over breaching his original bail conditions.
When the Ecuadorian government cut off his internet and suspended his right to receive visitors on March 28, the WikiLeaks founder had been tweeting at a British lawmaker who had called him a “miserable worm.”
As a political prisoner detained without charge for 8 years, in violation of 2 UN rulings, I suppose I must be "miserable"; yet nothing wrong with being a "little" person although I'm rather tall; and better a "worm", a healthy creature that invigorates the soil, than a snake.
— Julian Assange ⌛ (@JulianAssange) March 27, 2018
According to Ecuadorian officials, however, it was Assange’s tweets about the arrest of former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont in Germany that provoked the decision to cut off his access.
In 1940 the elected president of Catalonia, Lluís Companys, was captured by the Gestapo, at the request of Spain, delivered to them and executed. Today, German police have arrested the elected president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, at the request of Spain, to be extradited.
— Julian Assange ⌛ (@JulianAssange) March 26, 2018
In a statement, officials said that Assange had violated a signed agreement “not to issue messages that supposed an interference in relation to other States.” WikiLeaks’ official Twitter account claimed the agreement did not exist.
Since the silencing, supporters and transparency activists sought to raise pressure on the Ecuadorian government to reinstate Assange’s internet access.
The first major push came the same day in the form of an online vigil broadcast and social media drive under the banner #ReconnectAssange, led by New Zealand Internet Party leader Suzie Dawson and entrepreneur Kim Dotcom.
Kim Dotcom and I are about to launch an online vigil for supporters of Julian Assange from around the world to congregate and advocate for the immediate restoration of Julian's human right to communication.
We will be using the hashtag #ReconnectJulian
Stay tuned for details
— Suzie Dawson (@Suzi3D) March 28, 2018
During a 10-hour livestream, supporters from across the world made contributions, including representatives of Pirate Parties International, CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, journalist Elizabeth Vos, and Gateway Pundit writer Cassandra Fairbanks.
Last year the Courage Foundation, an advocacy organization, announced WikiLeaks and all its staff as beneficiaries. WikiLeaks section editor Sarah Harrison stepped down as acting director of Courage when she became a beneficiary, but on Tuesday it was announced she would take a role on the organization’s Advisory Board.
Courage has been instrumental in pointing supporters to a public petition in support of Assange launched by DiEM25, a self-described pan-European movement of left-wing Democrats. That petition now has over 43,000 signatures with a target of 50,000.
— Courage Foundation (@couragefound) April 4, 2018
Courage also published the celebrities’ open letter.
— Courage Foundation (@couragefound) April 3, 2018
In a separate letter, submitted to the Ecuadorian government on Wednesday, 338 intellectuals and academics from 33 countries expressed their concern that “the security, integrity, mental health and political rights of Assange are being violated.”
Last year, two doctors warned that his state of isolation at the embassy, deprived of safe access to medical services, would have a detrimental impact on Assange’s physical and mental health.
Despite ongoing efforts and the gathering support to #ReconnectAssange, however, the Ecuadorian government shows no signs of suddenly changing its position or indication as to when it may eventually lift the suspension.
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology. He previously covered civil liberties, crime, and politics for Vice.