French activism, intense struggles and ghost hearings at the Westminster Magistrate Court – Part 2

Part 2 of an account of what happened at Westminster Magistrates Court on December the 20th, 2019, by Monika Karbowska. Translated using Deepl.

By Monika Karbowska

Part 2 – December 20

Friday, 20 December 2019. Return to the Westminster Magistrate Court in pouring rain. This may be the real trial today, unlike yesterday’s pantomime so well characterized by John. Naturally, as Master Goscinski says, it would be enough for the judge to be courageous and order by the force of law of her independence the stay of proceedings and the immediate release of Julian Assange and we could prepare a nice and warm family Christmas for him for his first day of true freedom. Let’s dream, but not too soon. What happened to the independence of the judiciary in the West?

This December 20th the Court is not hostile to us but has prepared us dissimulations and trapdoors. At 7:15 a.m. several journalists are already waiting in front of the metal door of the side street through which the accused prisoners arrive. They are sure of their scoop, Julian will be there. I’m thinking of the Spanish court where this corruption trial is not supposed to be secret but quite public and accessible. It must be possible in this court to see Julian Assange talking from here on video to Spain. Our comrades join us and at 8 o’clock black cars leave the court in convoys, followed by vans from Serco and Geoamey companies. We go wild. Every time we think Julian might be in it. The photographers rush to the windows of the vans, flash, jostle me as I try to reach the same windows with our “SOS received” message. It’s raining, everything is wet, there’s a big puddle in front of the door and every time a car passes by we get sprayed with dirty water. The third van stops in the street before turning towards the entrance. We rush in. One of the reporters pushes me so hard One of the reporters pushes me so hard, I fall in the gutter. We drum on the car. I stick the message on the window above my head, one of the journalists tells me to get out, I say “No. Our message is important too”. Then I notice that the photographers look at their picture after shooting and see the prisoner’s head on their screen. None of them is certainly Julian, otherwise they would have quickly left with their booty. My paper is so wet that it sticks to the window of the van. I’m thinking if I shouldn’t let him get into the courtroom with the car. Because then maybe the message will stay and Julian will be able to see it, or someone will give him the message… Just one of the guards operates the door which goes up like a blind. She talks to us, tells us that she saw him, that she likes him… We go straight into the tunnel to talk to her, so we’re inside the courthouse. The private security people aren’t hostile to her, they just need to earn a living.

In the meantime our whole team has arrived and we decide to go inside. We have a small queue with the usual crowd of extradited persons, their families and their lawyers. It’s almost 9:30 a.m. and the listings on the billboards are still the same as the day before. We split up the work, we go to every floor, we check every door. Rumours are circulating that Julian arrived in a black car, that the hearing will be in courtroom 1… In front of this room I am talking to a Polish woman whose own extradition trial is taking place. She’s going to defend herself and she’s worried. It speaks a lot of Polish in the waiting room whose seats are full, about Christmas and the return home. I feel like I’m in a very familiar place. Finally an employee comes out of the office to change the lists. The one in room 3 has no less than 40 people to extradite! I’m the employee on the second and third floors dedicated to “crimes”. On the door of the last room 10 I read: “EIO Home Office”. European Investigation Order and Home Office, British Home Office: that’s it.

Reading the European directive of 2014 tells me that this new mechanism, which did not exist when Julian Assange was prosecuted in 2010, allows a suspect, a victim or a witness who lives in another European country to be questioned by an accelerated procedure via a simple video form or by a transfer order in the issuing country. The executing country, in this case Great Britain, must bring to the hearing representatives of its institution in charge of carrying out the procedure, in this case the Home Office. The delegates of the Home Office are also responsible, article 24, point 5 of the directive, for ensuring that the fundamental rights of the citizen being questioned are respected, please do not laugh.

But who is the complainant, who is the accused? We are waiting outside the door with another activist and two lawyers. That’s when the brunette woman who reports on Julian Assange’s hearings under the twitter name of Naomi Colvin appears with another young woman. At 10 o’clock we go in, room 10, only the judge and the clerk and the lawyers of cases number 1 and 3 are there. Soon a young man arrives as the defendant in case number 1. His case is adjourned because there’s no prosecutor. His lawyer is not happy but cannot say anything, he is dating his client. I’m trying to understand so I don’t lose anything of what the judge and the clerk are mumbling to each other, I’m too scared to miss the EIO. But it soon becomes clear that this can’t be where Julian is going to appear, the room is empty, there are no guards or security guards. Nevertheless, we persevere while understanding that nothing will be public and that we won’t be told the truth. Case 3 is postponed as well. With the judge gone, I ask the clerk “where is the IOE”? “Room 4”, he replies. On the way out I see Naomi Colvin and her friend confused. I yell “Room 4” and run to the first floor.

Is it a mistrial that the phantom hearing is announced publicly in Room 10 and then postponed orally on the sly in Room 4? It could be. Why the secrecy? So that we don’t know where Julian is who would normally go free? Room 4 is at the end of the corridor in the left wing, just above the armoured door where the vans bring the prisoners to the back office, next to the women’s toilets. It is empty and locked. We cannot communicate with the activists outside because of cell phone jamming. We wait, we talk. It is past 11 am when suddenly one sees in the consultation room 2 in front of room 4 Stella Morris, the young brown woman with the teenage boy of yesterday. I do not know exactly who Stella Morris is, the articles speak about still a lawyer of Julian Assange but I have doubts. Few people are telling the truth about their role in this case. So a man in a suit walks out of the room followed by the two protagonists. It’s Fidel Narvaez, the former consul, then first secretary of the Ecuadorian embassy under Raphael Correa. I’ve been in touch with him through left-wing networks. Nevertheless, I am surprised. Is he the plaintiff as the head of the administration of the Ecuadorian spied-on premises? What about Stella Morris the victim testifying as a former employee? Is the closed-door trial because of her son’s minority status at the time? But why hide it?

We’re politely asking Mr. Narvaez if and when Julian Assange will appear. At 2:30 he tells us. Security guards make the noise that it’s folded, that he’s gone, or that he’s only going to appear on video. Our friend John arrives then and tells us that this is it, Julian had arrived. The photographers are sure of that because they took the picture. It was a big van, the biggest van of them all. It’s noon, we can’t hope to pull Julian out of the bowels of the court back office. We can only hope they’ll give him something to eat and everyone’s off to lunch. We come back at 2pm and pass Stella Morris in the corridors who refuses to give us any information. The corridor is full of Poles and Romanians awaiting trial, we sit down with them, then little by little the corridor empties, the things are sent out. A little before 2.30 pm Fidel Narvaez arrives and waits in front of room 4. I introduce myself and tell him about yesterday’s hearing, that Julian is not well… He’s still very evasive. The case is very, very complicated. But today who exactly is the plaintiff? We don’t understand anything. Why the closed session, why not Courtroom 10, so Julian will be there or not? We just hope that Julian Assange is a witness and not yet accused of something. Ideally, a complaint on his behalf should be drawn up for violation of his privacy.

Mr. Narvaez is standing in one of the hallway seats waiting to consider a case. Around 3 p.m. I recognize Alistar Lyon, from Gareth Peirce’s office, who is walking 100 steps in front of room 4. He is the only lawyer Julian Assange spoke to during his appearance on 21 October. I’m not waiting, we must at least know what’s going on. He’s nice, we’re discussing the social situation and life in France. Yes, he is now Julian Assange’s lawyer. That’s all he can tell me. I tell myself that at least Julian won’t be alone. A few minutes later, around 3:10, room 4 is lit up and we’re getting busy inside. The manager opens the door and everything goes fast. Alistar Lyon rushes into the room, then a man and a woman, both civil servant types, come out of a consulting room and follow him. The Home Office, our friends say. Mitie’s security manager locks the door of the room while staying inside. But just before two security guards block the view by standing in front of the door, Julie had time to see Julian. She could see him standing, white hair cut off, rather shaved and without glasses. He is talking to Lyon face to face with behind the glass of the right-hand box. I can see Lyon well, but the security on the right is blocking the view. As soon as Julian sits down we won’t see anything. But we stay, hoping to see him and to put pressure on him.

Julian is behind two doors and a window, but only 20 meters away from us. It’s horrible and infuriating to know that he’s so close. When we think of the impenetrable walls of Belmarsh, the more secret prison where he’s so well hidden from the world. There are no words to describe our helplessness. It’s strange, because at the same time all our submission is voluntary. I know the profession of security guard, a proletarian job. No one would take risks. All we’d have to do is push them around, they’d fade away… But the others behind would make Julian disappear into the depths of the concrete dungeons and we’d be banned from entering or expelled…

So we camped outside the door in front of the men in the hope that our presence would be felt inside the room. So much effort on the part of the system to keep a man so weakened that the day before he couldn’t say his name or if he understood what was at stake in his fate from the sight of his loved ones… At that moment the relatives are us, there is no one else to be close to him. And outside are the activists whose clamour is rising. Louder and louder. The hall adjoins the wall facing the street of the rally. It is possible that Julian will hear “Free Free Julian Assange”, so sincere and powerful are the voices. The security guards move from one foot to the other, they are tired. I watch for signs of trouble so I can take action. They joke about the militant clamour, talking about “French activism”. There is no hostility on their part, but a kind of resigned duty to keep one’s job. We try to soften them up. We ask them to just allow us to see Julian through the airlock window, the security manager has locked the door from the inside anyway. What are the secrets of the hearing? No journalist can write anything real about it. Is it taking so long because you need an interpreter? How can Julian now concentrate during two hours of interrogation when the day before he couldn’t finish a sentence without hesitation? The hearing of a man in such a state cannot have any legal value. It must be stopped, released and treated in a place of trust so that he is able to defend himself. This is what Wikijustice has been asking for from the beginning…How is it that the Spanish judge does not see the deplorable state of health of the witness? Is there an English judge in the room or is the Home Office playing the role of the judicial authority? So many questions. And why is the manager of private security Mitie attending a trial that takes place in camera? In a closed session no one other than the litigants concerned and the judicial authority can be present. I see him next to the guard in the dark blue sweater moving furniture. In the end it is him who will open the metal door to let out the van where Julian Assange is locked up. The courtroom will be empty by 5pm, he will be left to work conscientious overtime. Fidel Narvaez left around 4.30pm without waiting for the end.

Because the hearing lasts two hours. It’s heavy for us too because we’re exhausted, but always on the lookout for the slightest possibility of seeing him. The activists continue to raise the voice of protest. Then suddenly the manager unlocks the door, the security guards fade away and I see Alistar Lyon storming out of the room and running towards the secretariat premises at the other end of the court. He has the defeated face of someone who’s faced some bad news. We’re worried about Julian. Then out comes an elderly man who could be the interpreter and the two Home Office officials. The agents tell us it’s over without formally kicking us out. We don’t want to miss Julian’s exit. We know they’ve already evacuated him out the back. We need to tell the activists to be on the lookout for the van as soon as possible.

It’s raining, it’s dark, but since we know it’s right behind the metal door we have to shout loudly because he can hear. We shout, some activists sing. The atmosphere is strong and supportive. There is a police truck and 6 or 7 cops in front of the door. They don’t look aggressive and they tell us that it’s to prevent us from entering the building. They know we’re not going to do it, everyone is far too obedient here. We wait another hour. They’re waiting for the Friday night traffic to pass so the van doesn’t get stuck in traffic? They want to take it through the other back door? We don’t know. We don’t know. Then slowly the door rises. First two vans enter empty, then one small and one large, both SERCO. We rush in, exhausted and angry. Especially on the second one, which everyone says Julian is in. Ten of us drumming on the armour, shouting “‘we are with you”, “‘free Julian. “…with all our might. Photographers are shooting inside. One activist, Cynthia, will tell us that Julian Assange was sitting on the side where she was standing and that she could see him when the photographer flashed and lit up the interior.

The vans leave the building and the police don’t stop us from following them down the street, so we run them down. There’s construction going on, the convoy is blocked 100 meters away. We run to catch up with the van again! We try to open the door… In older times people would have been more offensive, but who would dare to do today what the Resistance fighters of the 40s and the militants of the 60s and 70s did? We’re exhausted but we accompanied him to the end. Julian Assange is not alone. I hope he was able to take the cry of our indignation and solidarity behind the prison walls.

Part 1 – December 19

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