Given his ongoing fight against extradition, you’d have thought Julian Assange might want to keep a low profile.
But the founder of Wikileaks ended up drawing more attention to himself when he turned up at an anti-City protest in London wearing a Guy Fawkes-style mask.
Police used the Public Order Act to demand that the self-styled defender of liberty remove the “disguise”.
He then used a megaphone to address a crowd telling them that protesters should have the right to mask their identities.
Assange, 40, is currently fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning over the rape and sexual assault of two women, which he denies.
On Saturday he turned up at the British end of the worldwide wave of anti-capitalism protests that began in New York on Friday, and led to violence in Rome and Berlin. He arrived wearing a black hooded cape and mask of a type featured in a British film about a pro-democracy activist of the near-future, V For Vendetta.
The controversial Wikileaks chief – who angered the US and other governments by leaking tens of thousands of secret documents from American embassies across the globe – said “it is now impossible for people to move in an anonymous way”. Wearing masks to protests to keep one’s identity secret from the state was a human right, he suggested, a right that should remain until the secrecy surrounding Swiss bank accounts is swept away.
Assange – who was accompanied by two burly bodyguards – then thanked his supporters, while saying that for the last 310 days he had been suffering “electronically manacled house arrest in Norfolk”. Assange was tagged as part of his bail conditions last December.
The anti-capitalism protests began in New York, where the newly-formed Occupy Wall Street group caused disruption across the city.
In London, an attempt to occupy the Stock Exchange flopped, and protesters instead set up 70 tents by St Paul’s Cathedral in the City, and stayed overnight and into yesterday.
Activists, around 250 in total, have vowed to stay, and carried banners with slogans such as “We are the 99%” and “Bankers got a bailout, we got sold out”.
Last night a number of tents were still camped outside the landmark.
Several thousands of demonstrators had descended on the area, leading to a total of eight arrests by yesterday afternoon, including a girl aged 17 and a woman aged 41 both suspected of assaulting police.
St Paul’s canon chancellor the Reverend Dr Giles Fraser emerged on to the cathedral steps yesterday morning to ask police to move off the steps so worshippers could get inside – and to express his support for the democratic right to protest.
Dr. Fraser said: “I haven’t seen any trouble, I understood there might have been some but I haven’t seen any trouble. The police were trying to protect the building for us which was very good of them. Earlier this morning I asked them if they’d leave because I didn’t feel that it needed that sort of protection.”
Scotland Yard said it had made efforts to ensure Saturday’s protest was largely peaceful. However, Occupy London Stock Exchange supporter Anna Jones claimed “a disproportionate amount of force” was used by police against protesters outside St Paul’s.
In Rome on Saturday hardcore anarchists from the “Black Bloc” wore masks as they hijacked peaceful anti-capitalism protest by tens of thousands so called “indignant ones” to torch cars, attack banks and hurl rocks.
There was also violence in Berlin, but more peaceful protests in numerous other cities including Madrid, Lisbon, Frankfurt, Toronto, Mexico City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Sydney and Hong Kong.
This article was published by iol news on October 18, 2011.
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