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UN Special Rapporteur On Torture: ‘The Collective Persecution Of Julian Assange Must End Here And Now’

In a blistering statement against democratic countries collaborating to prosecute and enable the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture condemned the “collective persecution” against him.

“In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence, and political persecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize, and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” Nils Melzer declared.

On May 9, Melzer visited the Belmarsh prison, where Assange is confined. Two medical experts, who specialize in examining potential victims of torture and abuse, accompanied Melzer and conducted a medical assessment.

“Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety, and intense psychological trauma,” one expert concluded.

The expert added, “[He] has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.”

The abusive treatment of Assange by the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Ecuador was condemned by the expert, who mentioned that they “seriously deplore the consistent failure of all involved governments to take measures for the protection of his most fundamental human rights and dignity.”

“By displaying an attitude of complacency at best, and of complicity at worst, these governments have created an atmosphere of impunity encouraging Mr. Assange’s uninhibited vilification and abuse.”

Melzer sent letters to each of the four involved governments this past week that urged them to quit “disseminating, instigating, and tolerating statements or other activities prejudicial to Assange’s human rights and dignity.”

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture also pressed the British government to not allow the extradition of Assange to the U.S. and expressed alarm over the 17 new charges of violating the Espionage Act that were issued against him by the U.S. Justice Department, which carry up to 175 years in prison if he is found guilty of all offenses.

According to Melzer, Assange is not in solitary confinement conditions, however, the prison does limit the length and frequency of lawyer visits to an extent that may prevent him from being able to prepare a defense in his “complex” case.

“Since 2010, when Wikileaks started publishing evidence of war crimes and torture committed by U.S. forces, we have seen a sustained and concerted effort by several states towards getting Mr. Assange extradited to the United States for prosecution, raising serious concern over the criminalization of investigative journalism in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law,” Melzer stated.

On May 30, Assange was unable to attend a hearing at the Westminster Magistrates Court via video link because of his deteriorating health. He was moved to the hospital ward of Belmarsh.

There is a hearing scheduled in Sweden on June 3. A Swedish prosecutor re-opened the case into sexual allegations and requested that Assange be detained in absentia.

Assange’s attorneys requested the hearing be postponed due to his poor health, but a Swedish court rejected this request on May 28, mere days before it was widely reported that he was moved to the hospital ward.

“One of the reasons is that Assange’s health situation on [May 24] was such that it was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him,” said Per Samuelson, Assange’s Swedish defense attorney.

Judge Emma Arbuthnot indicated on May 30 that a substantive extradition hearing scheduled on June 12 may be moved to a court near Belmarsh to accommodate Assange while he is in poor health.

In February 2018, Arbuthnot presided over a complaint against the bail charge against Assange, which was issued after he sought political asylum from Ecuador.

She wrote, “I accept that Mr. Assange had expressed fears of being returned to the United States from a very early stage in the Swedish extradition proceedings, but absent any evidence from Mr. Assange on oath, I do not find that Mr. Assange’s fears were reasonable. I do not accept that Sweden would have rendered Mr. Assange to the United States. If that had happened, there would have been a diplomatic crisis between the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the United States, which would have affected international relationships and extradition proceedings between the states.”

After Assange was expelled and arrested from their embassy in the U.K., Ecuador seized his possessions. They handed over his “legal papers, medical records, and electronics equipment” to U.S. officials earlier in May.

“It is extremely worrying that Ecuador has proceeded with the search and seizure of property, documents, information, and other material belonging to the defense of Julian Assange, which Ecuador arbitrarily confiscated, so that these can be handed over to the the agent of political persecution against him, the United States,” Baltasar Garzón, the international legal coordinator for the defense of Assange and WikiLeaks. “It is an unprecedented attack on the rights of the defence, freedom of expression and access to information exposing massive human rights abuses and corruption.”

Melzer appeared on “Democracy Now!” on May 31 and said, “I believe that Mr. Assange has a credible case and a credible fear that he would not get a fair trial in the United States, that he would not be safe and protected from the types of detention and treatment that would violate the Convention Against Torture.”

“When the new government was elected in Ecuador in 2017, the last government that had actually provided him with refuge and protection turned against him and started to deliberately harass him in order to get him to leave the embassy and/or to trigger a health crisis that would justify his expulsion to a British hospital, and therefore to British jurisdiction,” Melzer added.

“All these elements have resulted in a medical picture and symptoms that are tantamount to what psychological torture would produce over a prolonged period.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."