The rights of Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange have been “severely violated” for more than a decade, according to the UN’s top envoy on torture, and the British government should release him from detention immediately.
Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, said Mr Assange had been convicted of no crime, and yet as he awaited for a court to decide whether to extradite him to the US to face espionage charges, he was at threat of contracting Covid-19.
Mr Melzer repeated his assertion Mr Assange’s treatment amounted to torture, and called for the British authorities to either release him or put him under guarded house arrest.
“The British authorities initially detained Mr Assange on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Sweden in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct that have since been formally dropped due to lack of evidence,” he said in a statement released in Geneva.
“Today, he is detained for exclusively preventative purposes, to ensure his presence during the ongoing US extradition trial, a proceeding which may well last several years.”
He added: “Mr Assange is not a criminal convict and poses no threat to anyone, so his prolonged solitary confinement in a high security prison is neither necessary nor proportionate and clearly lacks any legal basis.”
Mr Assange, 49, founded the whistleblower site Wikileaks in 2006, but generated headlines around the world in 2010, when he released material passed to him by then US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
Mr Assange said the material showed the US and its allies were committing war crimes during its occupation of Iraq.
Among the most disturbing of the material was video footage that showed two US AH-64 Apache helicopters attacking buildings in Baghdad in 2007, and then closing in a group of people. Among the people were children and journalists.
“Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards,” one US airman could be heard to say of the attack that killed at least a dozen people. Ms Manning served seven years for leaking the video, much of that time spent in solitary confinement.
Mr Assange, who is being held in London’s Belmarsh Prison, which like many such facilities has seen an outbreak of Covid cases, was arrested 10 years ago over alleged sexual crimes in Sweden. Mr Assange has always denied the allegations and Mr Melzer said they were withdrawn because of lack of evidence.
Mr Assange jumped bail in 2012 and sought and obtained political asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he spent seven years. He was arrested from there in April 2019 by the British authorities, acting on an extradition request from the US where he faces 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret American military documents a decade ago. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
The British government accused Mr Assange of skipping bail and he was sentenced to 50 weeks imprisonment. Judge Deborah Taylor told him he had exploited his position. “Whilst you may have had fears as to what may happen to you, nonetheless you had a choice,” she told him.
Mr Assange’s defence team argues he is a journalist and entitled to First Amendment protections for publishing such information. They have also said the conditions he would face in a US prison would breach his human rights. They also argued he had entered the Ecuadorian Embassy out of desperation to avoid being sent to the US.
“Mr Assange's rights have been severely violated for more than a decade. He must now be allowed to live a normal family, social and professional life, to recover his health and to adequately prepare his defence against the US extradition request pending against him,” said Mr Melzer.
Last month, Stella Morris, Mr Assange’s partner and the mother of his two children, called on Donald Trump to pardon him.
“I beg you, please bring him home for Christmas,” she tweeted.
There was no immediate response to enquiries from the British Home Office.
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