United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, who raised specific concerns related to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s case, has grown increasingly frustrated as the government of Sweden refuses to answer his questions.
Melzer wrote letters in May and in September. In response to his most recent letter, which alleged violations of due process and human rights, Swedish officials wrote, “The government has no further observations to make.”
As Melzer complained, the Swedish government has flatly refused to “explain its handling of the Assange case,” provide requested information, and “engage in a constructive dialogue.”
But The Local in Sweden reports the government’s prosecution authority will provide an update on the status of the “investigation,” which was closed in 2017 but reopened after Assange was expelled from the Ecuador embassy in London and arrested, jailed, and charged by the United States with violating the Espionage Act in April.
A press conference scheduled for November 19 will offer the Swedish government an opportunity to further justify the drawn-out “investigation” while dodging the accountability demanded by a UN human rights official.
Melzer contends [PDF] Assange has suffered “prolonged arbitrary confinement” due to the actions of Sweden and the United Kingdom. He also believes Sweden is responsible for “public shaming and judicial harassment,” as well as “sustained and unrestrained public mobbing, intimidation, and defamation in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Ecuador.”
The Swedish government replied [PDF] to Melzer in July, “The statement of facts provided in your letter in no way justifies the conclusion that the Swedish public authorities had any other grounds for their actions than the investigation of the criminal offence Mr Assange is suspected of in Sweden. The government strongly refutes your conclusion in this regard.”
However, Melzer alleges the government has disregarded confidentiality by spreading a “rape” narrative in the Swedish media, ignored exculpatory evidence, and flouted requirements for proportionality by issuing a detention order, European Arrest Warrant, and an Interpol “red notice” for “fugitives,” even though Assange “voluntarily submitted to questioning by Swedish police” on August 30, 2010.
Melzer recalls, “In the evening of August 20, 2010, just a few hours after the two concerned women, AA and SW, had first appeared in a police station to inquire whether Mr. Assange could be compelled to take an HIV-test, the Swedish prosecution ordered the arrest of Mr. Assange and informed the tabloid newspaper Expressen that he was suspected of having raped two women.”
The case against Assange has been filled with examples of what Melzer terms “procedural procrastination.”
“Between 2010 and 2019, the preliminary investigation conducted against Mr. Assange in Sweden has been opened by one prosecutor, closed by another, re-opened and then closed again by a third, only to be re-opened by a fourth, without any decisive procedural progress being achieved for almost a decade,” Melzer describes.
More significantly, and in the context of the prosecution Assange faces from the United States government, Sweden repeatedly refused to assure Assange they would not allow him to be extradited to the U.S. in violation of any treaties, particularly those prohibiting torture.
Both Mohamed el-Zery and Ahmed Agiza were two Egyptian citizens who applied for asylum in Sweden in 1999 and 2000, respectively. They maintained they would be tortured by Egyptian security forces if they returned to Egypt. The Swedish Security Police recommended their applications be rejected, and Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh approve CIA aircraft for their expulsion in 2001. Melzer cited their cases in his letter.
Agiza was held incommunicado for five weeks, according to The Rendition Project. He was subjected to “electric shocks, death threats, and threats of sexual abuse against his female relatives.” He was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for “membership in an organization banned under Egyptian law” in a trial that failed to uphold “fair trial standards.”
El-Zery was kept blindfolded while in detention, and in early 2002, he faced “five weeks of interrogations and torture, including electric shocks to the genitals, nipples, and ears.” Egyptian Security Services forced him to confess to crimes he never committed. He was moved to a new facility in February 2002, where he was kept in a cell that was 1.5 by 1.5 meters. Only in late 2002 did he learn he was detained for membership in a “forbidden organization,” and later he was released without charge in October 27, 2003.
“Assange had a credible fear that, once extradited to Sweden, he would be transferred to the United States without due regard to universally recognized principles of due process and non-refoulement,” Melzer concludes.
(Note: Non-refoulement means not forcing asylum seekers to return to a country where they may be subject to persecution.)
With regard to the fact that Assange sought political asylum instead of traveling to Sweden for further questioning and given those two particular cases, Melzer concludes, “Assange had a credible fear that, once extradited to Sweden, he would be transferred to the United States without due regard to universally recognized principles of due process and non-refoulement.”
Assange had an administrative hearing in the morning on November 18 at the Westminster Magistrates Court in London. His attorney, Gareth Peirce, informed Judge Vanessa Baraitser that Assange was finally provided a computer in jail but it is “not the sort of computer needed to work on the case.”
Baraitser insisted she had no jurisdiction over Assange’s conditions at the Belmarsh prison, where he is detained.
Yet, Baraitser has the authority to release Assange while he awaits an extradition hearing scheduled for February, especially since he completed a 50-week sentence for violating bail conditions in the United Kingdom.
Additionally, journalists Mark Curtis and Matt Kennard reported last week that the husband of Lady Emma Arbuthnot, the chief magistrate overseeing the court, is a former defense minister and “paid chair” of the advisory board of Thales Group, which is a military corporation. Earlier this year, her husband was an adviser to the arms company, Babcock International. They both have contracts with the country’s Defense Ministry.
Lady Arbuthnot and her husband benefited financially from Bechtel, a military corporation, and the British-Turkish Tatlidil, “a forum established in 2011 during the visit to London of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.” Both were subjects of documents that WikiLeaks published.
The son of Lady Arbuthnot, which Curtis and Kennard also reported, is Alexander Arbuthnot, who is employed by Vitruvian Partners, a private equity firm that has a “multimillion-pound investment in Darktrace.”
Darktrace is staffed by officials recruited from the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Wired noted in 2018 that Darktrace incorporated after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made his disclosures and Chelsea Manning transferred documents to WikiLeaks.
Lady Arbuthnot, as Curtis made clear, directly ruled on Assange’s case until June. Since then, she has appointed “junior judges” to preside over hearings. She has not declared any conflicts of interest.
Finally, Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi was targeted by a Spanish private security working on the CIA’s behalf when she visited Assange while he was in the Ecuador embassy. She reported on some of the video and audio recordings that the company, Undercover Global, collected in violation of attorneys, journalists, and visitors’ privacy.
Maurizi had her phones “screwed open, presumably to obtain the IMEI code that allows uniquely identifying the phone in order to intercept it.” The company had access to USB sticks.
Particularly, past and present staffers of WikiLeaks were targeted:
Stella Morris was one of the main targets. The journalist Sarah Harrison, who flew to Hong Kong to help Edward Snowden, was targeted as well. UC Global’s boss also asked his employees for updated profiles of Renata Avila, the lawyer and expert on digital rights; of the Croatian philosopher and co-founder of DIEM, Srecko Horvat; of the London-based lawyer Jennifer Robinson, who has been representing Julian Assange since 2010; of the film-makers Juan and José Passarelli; of the Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzon, who heads Julian Assange’s legal team. A series of photographs reveals that Garzon was followed. Files also reveal that the freelance journalist and tech expert Andy Müller-Maguhn had his phones targeted. Video recordings inside the embassy show Glenn Greenwald and his husband, David Miranda, meeting Julian Assange, and British rapper M.I.A. having lunch with the founder of WikiLeaks as his cat sits on the table.
What is especially troubling, as Maurizi highlights, is that this “espionage operation” occurred while Assange was protected by political asylum.
Assange has sued Undercover Global for privacy violations and other offenses. Spanish lawyer Aitor Martinez told La Repubblica, which exposed additional evidence of violations, that legal meetings in the embassy were spied upon. That is evidence enough for a British court to deny his extradition to the United States.