Vigil for Julian Assange at Ecuadorian Embassy

by Stephen Hewitt | Published 7 October 2018 | Last updated 8 January 2019

Man crouched next to long banner on pavement at night, with brick building and railings with candle behind
23 September 2018: Ciaron O'Reilly outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London with a banner he has put on the pavement, “The truth will set you free FREE JULIAN ASSANGE”

On the evening of Sunday 23 September 2018, arriving without any prior communication I found three people in the small cul-de-sac next to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London at 3 Hans Crescent, SW1X 0LS. They proceeded with a ceremony described as a liturgy, lead by Ciaron O'Reilly, a Catholic pacifist with experience of non-violent activism against war stretching back decades, who had been to prison more than once as a result of actions based on his beliefs. The ceremony included readings from the Bible and breaking of a sandwich and ended with the Lord's prayer.

Later Ciaron O'Reilly spread out a banner on the pavement in front of the Ecuadorian Embassy which read “The truth will set you free FREE JULIAN ASSANGE” and placed a candle on the railings above it. (Photo)

Poster and candle on black railings outside at night in front of a red brick building with white curved railings of a balcony
23 September 2018: Julian Assange photo on a poster and a lit candle placed by Ciaron O'Reilly at the front of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Asked to explain why Julian Assange should be a cause for a peace activist he said “He has exposed a war that over a million people in this city marched against and one wonders where they are now”, adding “as he pays the consequences of that”.

He went on to say that Julian Assange comes from a strong anti-war background.

Man with long hair & headband, wearing black, outside with trees, grass and people
30 September 2018: Ciaron O'Reilly speaking in Hyde Park before returning to the Ecuadorian Embassy, London

He was aiming to expand the vigil to include more people and to be twenty-four hours a day. There would be more vigils during the week. And next Sunday, he said, the plan was to meet at the Ecuadorian Embassy at noon, go to Hyde Park at three and return to the Ecuadorian Embassy.

When I left he was wrapped in a sleeping bag, prepared for a night in the street near the embassy.

Ciaron O'Reilly

Before this particular evening, Ciaron O'Reilly, 58, already had a decades-long history of non-violent anti-war actions based on his religious beliefs.

In 2002 I heard him speak at Cambridge University at the invitation of a society called CamSAW (Cambridge students against war). He described amongst other things how he and others had damaged a military bomber runway in the USA and spent time in a US jail as a result. He had also been to jail in Australia after sabotaging uranium mining equipment. He joked while describing how on one occasion he had been punched while public speaking in the street, saying that rather than Black Hawk Down (a recently released film of the time) it was “white hippy down”.

On 28 March 2002 he and two others appeared at a magistrates court in Hertfordshire in connection with red paint on the sign outside Northwood military HQ where they had held a demonstration. (Related article below).

In 2006 he and four others were found not guilty of all charges resulting from deliberately damaging a US navy aircraft in Shannon airport in Ireland in 2003. Their defence had argued that they had a lawful excuse for the damage as they honestly believed that they were acting to protect lives and property in Iraq. The jury verdict was unanimous. (Not guilty verdict in third trial of anti-war activists, Irish Times, 26 July 2006)

Ciaron O'Reilly said that “as consultant” he had helped his godson, ex-SAS man Ben Griffin, to found Veterans for Peace (UK), which had grown to 500 members. Together they had also escorted Julian Assange to court appearances.

Years before founding Veterans for Peace UK, Ben Griffin left the SAS, the UK military's “Special Air Service”. The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported: “An SAS soldier has refused to fight in Iraq and has left the Army over the "illegal" tactics of United States troops and the policies of coalition forces. After three months in Baghdad, Ben Griffin told his commander that he was no longer prepared to fight alongside American forces.” The article mentioned his “exemplary, eight-year career” and went on to say “he was discharged with a testimonial describing him as a "balanced, honest, loyal and determined individual who possesses the strength of character to have the courage of his convictions".” (SAS soldier quits Army in disgust at 'illegal' American tactics in Iraq, Sean Rayment, Sunday Telegraph, 12 March 2006)

In 2017, The Guardian reported that Ciaron O'Reilly was “one of 10 people named by whistleblower as having had emails illegally monitored by Scotland Yard” and described him as a “Ploughshares and Catholic Worker organiser” and a “key supporter of Julian Assange” (Australian anti-war activist 'among victims of alleged UK police hacking', Joshua Robertson, Guardian, Monday 3 April 2017). He told me that it was after he received a lawyer's letter about his compromised email password that he decided to return to the UK.

More recently he and others had been trying to deliver a letter to the Pope, a plea that he accompany Julian Assange to a place of safety. The letter was eventually delivered, although not by Ciaron O'Reilly himself.

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