MEXICO CITY (AP) – This week, the goal was to include a mention of Julian Assange in a meeting between Mexico’s president and the United States’ top diplomat. Next week, the Australian Prime Minister will raise it with the US President at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.
The effort is part of a campaign by John Shipton, father of the WikiLeaks founder, to find allies and persuade the US to drop spying charges against Assange, who is in a UK jail awaiting extradition to the US
The 70-year-old Australian architect’s trip with another son, Gabriel, took her to Mexico this week. The country has become the family’s main ally in Latin America since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered Assange political asylum and urged the US to allow him to take refuge there.
“We call President López Obrador an icebreaker,” after which the leaders of Chile, Colombia and Bolivia also called for his release, Gabriel Shipton said during the visit to Mexico. Amid a packed calendar of events, John Shipton received the key to the capital on behalf of Assange on Wednesday, a ceremonial honor bestowed on distinguished guests by the city. The day before he spoke before the Mexican Senate.
US prosecutors say Assange helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal secret diplomatic cables and military files later released by WikiLeaks, putting lives at risk. He faces 17 espionage charges and one computer misuse charge.
His defenders see Assange as a symbol of a free press and a fight for justice that has exposed US military misconduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange was arrested in London in 2010 at the request of Sweden for alleged sexual assault, which he denies. In 2012, he broke his bail and sought refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy, where he remained until ordered to leave the country in 2019. He was immediately arrested again.
When his father visited him in prison that year, Assange asked for help.
That prompted Shipton to launch his Globetrotter campaign with Gabriel and try to reach average people because politicians want those people’s votes, he said.
They went from Australia to Europe, the United States and Mexico. Every statement by a politician in support of Assange’s release, every headline, is oxygen for Assange, who is being held in a maximum security prison.
The efforts have all been consuming, Shipton said at a Mexico City hotel as he and Gabriel detailed the day’s events, including a protest at the US embassy, a meeting with a government official, press interviews and phone calls, including one with Assange .
Those calls from jail cut off after 10 minutes, said Shipton, who declined to say how often they speak or what they discuss. “I cannot report on conversations between father and son. It’s not public,” he said.
According to a documentary produced by Gabriel Shipton called “Ithaka,” Shipton was estranged from Assange until he was 20, suggesting a complicated relationship.
John Shipton smiled as he recalled Assange’s marriage to his attorney Stella Moris in March, a day Shipton described as “like a flower in the desert.”
Shipton is uncomfortable with the media but aware that he needs them and constantly questions them and tells them that Assange’s case directly affects their ability to continue reporting freely.
His visit to Mexico concludes with his participation in Independence Day activities on Thursday evening 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 in hopes of Brazilian Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva returning to the presidency.
“You just take each moment as it comes and do your best, you don’t rely on optimism, hope, you just do your job,” Shipton said, noting that it’s work that never ends.