Assange Brett Wilkins Press Freedom

Ben & Jerry’s, CodePink Co-Founders Arrested in DC Demanding Freedom for Julian Assange

"It seems to me," said Ben Cohen, "that, right now, unless things change, and unless we change them, freedom of the press is going up in smoke."
CodePink co-founder Jodie Evans (left) and Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen (right) block an entrance to the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C. on July 6, 2023.
 (Photo: Medea Benjamin/Twitter)

By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams

Ben Cohen, the co-founder of the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, and Jodie Evans, who co-founded the peace group CodePink, were arrested Thursday outside Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C. for blocking an entrance to the building to protest the U.S. government’s prosecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.

Cohen and Evans were arrested while other demonstrators chanted slogans demanding freedom for Assange, the 52-year-old Australian facing extradition from the United Kingdom to the U.S., where he has been charged with Espionage Act violations and could be imprisoned for up to 175 years if convicted on all counts.

“It’s outrageous. Julian Assange is nonviolent. He is presumed innocent. And yet somehow or other, he has been imprisoned in solitary confinement for four years. That is torture,” Cohen said during the protest. “He revealed the truth, and for that he is suffering, and… we need to do whatever we can to help him, and to help preserve democracy, which is based on freedom of the press.”

“It seems to me that, right now, unless things change, and unless we change them, freedom of the press is going up in smoke,” Cohen asserted before lighting an effigy of the Bill of Rights in four places.

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“One for each year that… Assange has been held in solitary confinement,” he explained.

Evans asked, “Why do we have freedom of the press?”

“Because there needs to be someone reporting the truth about the violence of power,” she said. “When you don’t have freedom of the press and no one’s telling the truth, it weaponizes your capacity to feel, to have compassion and empathy.”

“If you don’t have the full story and if your heart is being manipulated with lies, then we’re all lost,” Evans added. “How can we have peace in the world if we’re just drowning in lies?”‘

Assange—who suffers from physical and mental health problems including heart and respiratory issues—published classified U.S. government documents, many of them provided by whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Some of the files exposed U.S. and allied war crimes, including the “Collateral Murder” video showing a U.S. Army helicopter crew killing a group of Iraqi civilians, the Afghan War Diary, and the Iraq War Logs.

According to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Assange has been arbitrarily deprived of his freedom since he was arrested on December 7, 2010. Since then he has been held under house arrest, confined for seven years in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London while he was protected by the administration of former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, and jailed in Belmarsh Prison, where he is now.

After a U.K. court last month rejected Assange’s appeal against his extradition order to the United States, press freedom groups renewed calls for U.S. President Joe Biden to drop the charges against him.

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Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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