We made a supplementary online petition which is to be found here. the petition itself and the accompanying text is in Dutch, but we translated the text for not-native citizens into English:
We prepare a solidarity action in Leuven with some citizen organised in a “free Assange committee”. Our cause is against the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States.
The full name of the action is «citizens’ initiative with the right to speak at the local council». What does this mean? Every Leuven citizen who collects 750 signatures from other adult Leuven citizens can submit his or her proposal to the municipal council. See https://www.leuven.be/sites/leuven.be/files/documents/2019-12/Formulier%20initiatiefrecht.pdf. After checking en regularising all the signatures, I will be invited at the council and have 10′ to my disposal to elaborate the cause of Assange. Regardless of the answers of the council to my questions, this could stimulate a likewise action in favour of Assange elsewhere in Belgium, Europe or anywhere in the world where this kind of procedure is possible.
Who is Julian Assange? He is the founder of Wikileaks, a global organization for “whistleblowers” – in the figurative sense of the word: people who denounce injustice and corruption. WikiLeaks has won several awards and nominations, including for journalism and for human rights. See https://defend.wikileaks.org/wikileaks/.
Why do we need to take action for Assange now? He has been locked up for more than a year in London Belmarsh, a harsh prison, and his health is in bad shape. The United States is demanding his extradition and wants to try him in the United States. They openly state that he faces up to 175 years in prison. See https://www.businessinsider.nl/assange-175-years-jail-doj-charges-wikileaks-2019-5?international=true&r=US.
Why is this important? The US government wants to set an example and deter any critical voice against its policy, both from journalists and from (future) whistleblowers.
What can the Leuven city council do about this? The city council can inform the people of Leuven about Assange’s imprisonment and his imminent extradition to the US. Since his imprisonment in Belmarsh, hardly a word has been written about him and Wikileaks in the mainstream press. The Leuven city council can set an example and inform its residents. They can also make the statement that Assange should not be extradited to the United States.
Wouldn’t a public statement of the Leuven city council purely be a symbolic gesture? Not at all. First, it will be a boost for Julian Assange as a person to know that citizens and their political representatives around the world stand up for him. For someone in prison and in poor health, this can make a huge difference. Second, Assange has a reasonable chance of winning the case against his extradition, and then it is not inconceivable that one day he might end up in Belgium or in another European country within a few years. A citizen of Australia himself, he has traveled the world promoting and refining the WikiLeaks organization everywhere. A still “symbolic” honorary citizenship, for example in Leuven, could be a further step towards conferring Belgian nationality and protection against subsequent prosecution by the US authorities.
Does Leuven have a special asset for promoting solidarity with Assange and WikiLeaks? Absolutely. The University of Leuven is internationally renowned and attaches great importance to the ideals of transparency, free access to knowledge and the education of all citizens. Those are also ideals of WikiLeaks. Leuven’s medical science and hospitals are of such world fame that the Sultans from oil countries come there to be treated. Why not display the same support for Assange and for the ideals of press freedom and transparency and accessibility of information?
And perhaps most important of all: Leuven is part of the worldwide network “Mayors for Peace”. These are 6,800 cities that carry the message of peace. See https://nl.qwe.wiki/wiki/Mayors_for_Peace.
Obviously, such a pro forma membership of “Mayors for Peace” will not stop the threat of military escalation, that would be naive to think so. But the Leuven city government adresses real importance to this membership, as is testified by the manifestation on August 6, 2020 and by the call by our mayor Mohamed Ridouani to his fellow mayors to join this network for peace: https: // www .hln.be / in-the-neighborhood / leuven / city-government-and-peace-movement-commemorate-atomic-bombs-on-hiroshima-and-nagasaki-call-for-nuclear-disarmament ~ a3072143 /.
If they want to put their money where their mouth is, they can also give credit to Julian Assange and help get him released. The great merit of WikiLeaks is precisely to expose war crimes, and the reason the US absolutely wants to try Assange is the same: WikiLeaks has revealed war crimes committed by the US state.
The signatures for the citizens’ initiative are collected on the street, in the “traditional” way with pen and paper. This takes a lot of time but it is the only valid formula now to entitle the Julian Assange cause at the city council. Why then this (suppelementary) online petition? We can use this petition to increase support for the citizens’ initiative. Anyone can sign here, not just people from Leuven. The intention is to keep pace with the number of signatures “on paper” from Leuven residents. (In mid-August they are at about 500)
Follow the citizens’ initiative at: https://assange.one