2011-01-14 Eyewitness Account from Belmarsh Court

Last Monday at 16.30, I was on the internet, trying to help some people find their way around London to be able to go to Belmarsh court. And then it suddenly dawned on me that, after having followed Wikileaks intensely over the last couple of weeks, it would be a good thing to go as well. This is a short account of my experiences - together with practical ideas about the next court-hearing on the 7th and 8th of February.

How to get there:
Travel to Bank-underground station
Take the "light rail train" to Woolwich-Arsenal from there
A short walk away from the trainstation is a busstop - take bus 244/380
The journey took me 1 1/2 hour.

I had mailed the court in advance gl-horseferry.court@hmcourts-service.gsi.gov.uk to ask if there was anything I should be aware of. And this was their reply:

Please see link, the hearing is at 10am, there will be a public gallery, but please get there early. http://www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk/HMCSCourtFinder/SearchLinked.do?court...

So I did - I planned to be there at 8.00 and the whole place was already full of press, vehicles, cameras etc. They were all huddled up behind some type of railing & I was told to go to the front-door of the court and start a queue there. Before I did I had a bit of a chat with whoever was interested. The most intriguing conversation was with a journalist from Expressen: the Swedish paper that broke the news on the rape charges. I said to her that they would know who would have told them the news (see this link http://radsoft.net/news/20101202,00.shtml I don't like the tone of the article, but I love the logic!) & she was like "but we keep our sources confidential". And I was like - "but you must know the full story, would a rape victim have gone to you to advertise??" Funniest was that another journalist joined me and she became more and more agitated.

When I stood by the door I saw all the court-staff come in and around 9.30 I had become part of the furniture - still being a 1-person queue for "the public". They were all very friendly and I found out that, because England has so many complex cases, the case meant nothing special to them. It was business as usual.

When the doors finally opened we all had to go through scanners etc. Some of the journalists had a bit of stress because, apparently, not all of them knew that they were supposed to register in advance. The journalists then went to their registration desk and I went to the public gallery of the court-room. A balcony with a thick glass-fence, occupied by two policeman and for the rest completely empty. The courtroom had a similar glass wall at the back of it with some church-benchlike furniture & two policewomen behind it & that was meant for Julian.

I was in the middle of reading a magazine when downstairs (in the courtroom itself) a lady arrived who became completely hysterical and told me to leave the gallery ("you are not supposed to be there, how can I work while people are watching me") As I had only done as I was told, the policemen apologized ;-) and I waited outside. While I stood there a lot was going on: They first told me that there were so many journalists that there might not be a place for public. Then I was told that I could stay, but was not allowed to write anything down. I now saw Julian and all his lawyers etc. arrive and the people who had supported him with bail money & in the end I was back in the gallery where I overheard the NYTimes journalist saying that the Times are also going to do a book on Assange.

What was scary about the process was that the sound system was very bad. If the judge or the lawyers did not speak in the microphone they were hard to understand, I could get only meaning from their faces. I hope that it is not the habit of Belmarsh court to have people attend to their own court-case without being able to hear things. But maybe the sound in the glassbox downstairs was better...

When the hearing was over - I went looking for other supporters. It was quite worrying that I had seen no one else. It turned out that they were not allowed in because they wore signs and masks and hats. Court-workers told me that all this type of decisions are at the discretion of the judge.

I felt that it was very important that there were supporters there. From court cases I have done in the past - I have learned from the judge that they'll note it when there is a huge public interest and that it is important to be a witness to what the juridical system is doing. It is not a complex task - watching them with concentration and subtly reacting to what they say is enough.

On top of that we got the opportunity to talk to the press and express support for Wikileaks. Because I am blond I spoke to German/ARD and Hongkong/Phoenix (!) television. I also talked to two newspapers and was able to annoy the woman from the Expressen again. She had never heard of Karl Rove and didn't think she should....

So - I hope that my writing has gotten more of you interested in coming to the next hearing (I don't know yet if I will be able to attend that one) to support Julian Assange and Wikileaks. If you are - I think it is a good move to mail the court to ask for a place already. That might force them to consider moving the case to a different court because they need even more seats ;-)

Practical stuff: I think it was really wise from me to come in a business outfit and to present myself with my professional personality. Next time I'll bring businesscards and a telephone.

If you want to visit Belmarsh prison visitor centre

The address is 6 Belmarsh Road, London SE28 0HE (source: Google Earth)

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