"It takes a lawyer, an activist and a storyteller to create positive social change. I needed to learn how to be all three, defending Julian Assange."
Jennifer Robinson is an international philanthropist and Australian human rights lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers in London, specializing in human rights, media, public, and international law. She is best known for her work as a legal advisor to Julian Assange and Wikileaks for almost a decade, placing her at the centre of one of the most important and controversial legal cases of the century. She was also the legal advisor for the New York Times during its investigation of the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal. She has worked with activists and political prisoners from Syria to West Papua for more than a decade and conducted international human rights missions for the International Bar Association.
Before she was tapped in 2010 to defend Julian Assange and Wikileaks, Jennifer Robinson saw her job in the traditional way: as “defending an individual and advising an organization” rather than “serving a movement.” But then the London-based Australian barrister “saw how this person with nothing more than a backpack, together with a very small group of effective volunteers, could shake the world's superpower to its core with his revelations about war crimes, human rights abuse and corruption.” Fighting Assange’s extradition from the UK to Sweden and then the US, Jennifer witnessed the way the “imperial, global power” of the US and its allies were being used to slur her client as “the greatest threat to freedom, when, in fact, his work was designed to facilitate freedom: freedom of speech and the public’s right to know.” Because she “cared deeply about these freedoms” she realized: “I was part of this movement too.” In this gripping essay written from within the heart of the Assange case over a decade, Jennifer describes her experience, relating it to her ongoing work on behalf of the West Papua liberation movement. Her legal work was essential, but defending Assange required more. It required public advocacy: working with activists and protesters, in the media and on the streets, to challenge the narrative and actions of the US government in order to protect his rights – and, she had come to see, basic democratic rights too.