*Wikileaks founder Julian Assange yesterday lost his appeal in London’s Supreme Court to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning over sexual assault accusations.
Mr Assange has been granted 14 days by the court to put in an application to reopen the case, after his lawyer, Dinah Rose QC, suggested the decision appeared to be based on a legal point that was not raised during the hearing.
Today Wikileaks supporters worldwide will rally to protest the court’s ruling which they fear will also lead to his extradition and imprisonment in the US.
By his side in London is Christine Assange, a mother fiercely dedicated to fighting for her son’s freedom.
Megan Kinninment interviewed Christine Assange in the lead-up to the court’s decision and found a woman under extraordinary pressure.
All mothers worry about their kids. It goes with the territory.
Are they eating enough? Are they doing well at school? Will they be sent to America and be imprisoned and tortured? Oh, wait.
That last fear doesn’t crop up for most mothers, does it? For the mother of Wikileaks editor-in-chief, Julian Assange however, the fear is real.
As a journalist, I am fascinated by Wikileaks and its enigmatic Australian founder but as a mother I wonder how I would cope if it were my child under the spotlight of both the world’s media and the Pentagon. Last week I interviewed Christine Assange, 61, the mother of the man whose name returns over 28million results in a Google search.
I discovered a woman under extraordinary pressure.
In the coming days Julian Assange will hear the outcome of a UK Supreme Court appeal against extradition to Sweden to face questioning over sexual assault allegations made in 2010.
Christine Assange fears that once her son lands in Swedish soil he will be extradited to the US to be imprisoned for his role in publishing leaked secret diplomatic cables exposing the US government’s actions in the Iraq war.
Within seconds of ringing Christine Assange I sense I have entered a conflict zone and I am being briefed on the rules of engagement: There will be no face-to-face interview; any photo of her must be the side-on profile avatar she uses on Twitter (she wants to remain incognito in her new location); she will record our interview and insists I re-read her quotes to her before publication and stresses she wants “facts” in the story.
“I’m not doing this for myself, I am doing it for Jules,” she tells me.
And so begins the interview with a woman who is convinced not only is there a world-wide conspiracy against her son, but that his survival is intrinsically tied to the future of the free press and to democracy itself.
The stakes are high for Christine Assange.
She thinks her phones are being tapped; says she is trolled on Twitter and stalked in real life. She is having counselling.
She believes the Swedish allegations are revenge for the leaking of US diplomatic cables by Wikileaks in the same year, that her son has been framed.
She reveals to me where she is now living, only to retract the quote the next day, amending it to: “living in a secret location in Queensland, under a secret identity.”
After interviewing Christine Assange I initially recoil from the intensity of it and focus, instead, on my own mothering duties; running baths and cooking dinner; reading homework and making school lunches and yet Christine Assange’s words keep running in my head and I find myself increasingly sympathetic to them.
If my child faced imprisonment in the US under accusation of being a terrorist, how would I react?
“The idea of your child being extradited to the US is one of the most terrifying things a parent could think of because the US is a rogue state, make no mistake about it,” she says.
“Any parent who had a child facing that situation would be using every breath in their body to get them out of it.”
Paranoid though she may sound, Christine Assange’s fears have solid foundations.
Her son’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson delivered a report to Parliament House last year outlining the human rights cracks within the Swedish case against Assange; the way his case has been prejudiced and explaining the Swedish system where courts are closed and judge and prosecutor are one and the same. Any trial, (when it happens, he hasn’t even been charged), hardly seems fair by Australian standards.
Her fears have also been backed by the recent publication on Wikileaks of emails from Stratfor, a private intelligence firm advising the US Government. The Stratfor emails suggest a secret US jury has prepared an indictment against her son and Stratfor advises using the same ruthless techniques applied to Al Qaeda to hunt down Assange and his associates to silence Wikileaks.
So, how does a mother cope hearing this?
“I don’t cope. I have stomach aches and chronic anxiety. I can’t sleep,” Christine says.“I feel the same way any mother would feel in these circumstances.”
She recalls getting the late-night phone call that changed her life in 2010: “There was a foreign voice on the end asking me how I felt about my son being wanted for rape.
“I felt sick.
“Wikileaks was going for four years before these attacks started. They only started after Wikileaks published the 2010 war logs and from that point onwards the US has acted defensively and repressively.”
While Julian Assange remains police-tagged and under house arrest in the UK , his mother now heads the grassroots “Bring Julian Home” campaign from Australia, swapping her freelance theatre work for full-time activism. “I’m a performing seal for the media now,” she says.
She works mostly from an older model mobile phone, avoiding computers wherever possible.
“I loathe computers. I hate them. I didn’t get the computer gene and I don’t know where Julian got it from… I just think it’s the creativity that Jules got and he just happened to be born in the right generation.”
Still, this one-finger-typist who hates computers has taught herself how to harness social media in her fight to save her son, arming herself with what she deems her greatest weapon: facts.
She runs through a typical day’s work: “I emailed out posters and publicity for the panel in Brisbane, I chose six lawyers to look over the (draft) cyber security bill and emailed the bill out to the media, then I looked over the front page of new Wikileaks website in Sydney, did two interviews and set up another one in France and replied to one in Sweden.
I also had to operate my twitter account and respond to the blog post Bob Carr put up. I monitor three streams on Twitter – Wikileaks, the Assange stream and my own… I could go on if you want me to… I started at 7am and finished at 3am.”
It is late at night when the fears of what might happen to Julian get the better of her.
“I am so tired this morning. I stayed up last night thinking about how he might be “suicided”… killed to make it look like suicide,” she says as we start our interview.
“No government official has ever approached me or my family to help protect us. When people came out and threatened to kill Julian and kill my grandson, the Prime Minister did nothing. It’s disgusting.”
Julian has broken no laws and as an Australian citizen facing the ominous threat of extradition to a hostile US, he deserves his government’s help, she says.
Life before Wikileaks has been well documented: Julian Assange lived a Tom Sawyer-like childhood on Magnetic Island, Queensland and there were early signs suggesting he was gifted.
Christine Assange later lived in the cheapest rental to save money to buy him his first computer, a Commodore 64, and then there were fines for computer hacking in 1996, though there was no criminal damage done.
What isn’t as well known, says Christine, is how Julian helped the Australian Federal Police hack into child paedophile rings and how in his early 20s he raised his young son for five years as a single father.
“Giving up your career to look after your child is the most selfless thing you could do,” she says.
She points out that Wikileaks doesn’t hack or try to instigate leaks; what it does is provide a secure drop box for sources and all documents received are thoroughly checked before publication to ensure nobody is endangered.
I ask Christine if life can ever return to pre-2010 normal. She isn’t hopeful.
“The abnormal has become normal for us now,” she says of her and her partner.
“We ask each other: ‘Have you shredded the garbage, darling?’ in the same way other people just put out their garbage.
“The interesting thing is that human beings are adaptable creatures, and resilient – especially when it comes to their children. You’ll draw on strengths you didn’t think you had when you’re fighting for your child. Every mother feels their child’s pain.”
There are lighter moments, too, in this war of words as she and her partner watch TV and perform their own satires of the politicians they see “performing” on the tube.
“Anyone who is in the front line, in any way at all, develops a black sense of humour, otherwise you don’t survive,” she says.
She finds the deepest solace in drawing and in surfing: “When I am in the water everything just fades away. I put my goggles on so I can be surrounded by those blue, green, aqua bubbles and I feel like it’s a psychological rinse cycle; that I’m washing off the slime of politics to come back and keep fighting.
“I am strong, Jules knows that. I’ll never give up.”
For more information, go to: wwwjustice4assange.com. Follow Christine Assange on Twitter @AssangeC
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*Megan Kinninment is a journalist based in Byron Bay and author of the blog, The Byron Life. You can follow her on Twitter @thebyronlife