MEXICO CITY – This week the objective was to insert mention of Julian Assange into a meeting between Mexico’s president and the United States’ top diplomat. Next week, it will be to have Australia’s prime minister bring it up with the U.S. president at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.
The efforts are part of the campaign by John Shipton, father of the WikiLeaks founder, to find allies and convince the U.S. to drop espionage charges against Assange, who remains in a British prison awaiting extradition to the U.S.
The journey by the septuagenarian Australian architect together with another son, Gabriel, brought them this week to Mexico. The country has become the family’s main ally in Latin America since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered Assange political asylum and called for the U.S. to allow him to seek refuge there.
“We call President López Obrador an ice-breaker,” because afterward the leaders of Chile, Colombia and Bolivia called for his release too, Gabriel Shipton said during the visit to Mexico. Among a packed scheduled of events, John Shipton received the key to the capital Wednesday on behalf of Assange, a ceremonial honor the city bestows on distinguished guests. The day before, he addressed Mexico’s Senate.
American prosecutors say Assange helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk. He faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse.
His defenders consider Assange a symbol of a free press and a fight for justice who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange was arrested in London in 2010 at the request of Sweden pending a preliminary investigation into allegations of sexual assault, which he has denied. In 2012, he broke the conditions of his bail and sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy where he stayed until being asked to leave in 2019. He was immediately arrested again.
When his father visited him in jail that year, Assange asked for help.
That led Shipton to launch his globetrotting campaign with Gabriel, trying to reach average people, because politicians want those people’s votes, he said.
They went from Australia to Europe, the United States and Mexico. Each politician’s statement in favor of Assange’s release, every headline, is oxygen for Assange, who has been held in a maximum security prison.
The effort has been all consuming, Shipton said in a Mexico City hotel, as he and Gabriel listed the day’s events, which included a protest at the U.S. embassy, a meeting with a government official, press interviews and phone calls, including one with Assange.
Those calls from prison cut after 10 minutes, said Shipton, who declined to say how often they speak or what they discuss. “I can’t report on conversations between father and son. This is not public,” he said.
Shipton was estranged from Assange until his 20s, according to a documentary called “Ithaka,” produced by Gabriel Shipton, which suggests a complicated relationship.
John Shipton smiled remembering Assange’s wedding in March to his lawyer Stella Moris, a day Shipton described as “like a flower in the desert.”
Uncomfortable with media, but conscious that he needs then, Shipton questions them constantly, telling them Assange’s case directly affects their ability to continue reporting freely.
His visit to Mexico will finish with his participation in Independence Day activities Thursday night and Friday. López Obrador invited Shipton to events with relatives of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Ché Guevara, in what appeared to be an attempt to evoke emblematic figures of the 20th century.
The Shiptons plan to continue their efforts in Latin America next year, hoping that Brazil’s Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva returns to the presidency.
“You just take each moment as it comes and you do your very best you can, you don’t depend upon optimism, hope, you just do your work,” Shipton said, noting it’s a work that never ends.