The United Nations has issued a scathing press release insisting that the “collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”
Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture said that Assange has been exposed to psychological torture and warns that the award-winning publisher could face the death penalty if he is extradited to the United States.
Melzer visited Assange along with two medical experts who specialize in examining potential torture victims on May 9.
“My most urgent concern is that, in the United States, Mr. Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Melzer.
“I am particularly alarmed at the recent announcement by the US Department of Justice of 17 new charges against Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act, which currently carry up to 175 years in prison. This may well result in a life sentence without parole, or possibly even the death penalty, if further charges were to be added in the future,” Melzer continued.
Melzer also said that he is “gravely concerned” about the restrictions on lawyer visits and Assange’s lack of access to case files in Belmarsh prison, where he is currently being held. He said that the conditions make it impossible for him to adequately prepare his defense against the complex legal proceedings that are stacking up.
On Thursday, Assange was too ill to appear for a hearing even by video link.He has been moved to the prison’s medical unit and cannot even hold a normal conversation with his lawyers.
“Since 2010, when Wikileaks started publishing evidence of war crimes and torture committed by US 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 criminalisation of investigative journalism in violation of both the US Constitution and international human rights law,” Melzer said.
Melzer wrote that “there has been a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation against Mr. Assange, not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden and, more recently, Ecuador.”
The UN statement said that this included an “endless stream of humiliating, debasing and threatening statements in the press and on social media, but also by senior political figures, and even by judicial magistrates involved in proceedings against Assange.”
“In the course of the past nine years, Mr. Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.”
Speaking about the visit that he and the medical professionals had with Assange earlier this month, Melzer said that it was obvious that his health had been seriously impacted by the “extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he has been exposed to for many years.”
“Most importantly, in addition to physical ailments, Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma,” the UN report said.
“The evidence is overwhelming and clear,” the findings continued “Mr. Assange 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.
Melzer has sent official letters to the four governments involved in the campaign against Assange, urging them to “refrain from further disseminating, instigating or tolerating statements or other activities prejudicial to Assange’s human rights and dignity and to take measures to provide him with appropriate redress and rehabilitation for past harm.” He also urged the United Kingdom not to send the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee to the United States or to any other nation which may decide to extradite him here.
“I condemn, in the strongest terms, the deliberate, concerted and sustained nature of the abuse inflicted on Mr. Assange and seriously deplore the consistent failure of all involved governments to take measures for the protection of his most fundamental human rights and dignity,” the expert said. “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.”
The report concluded with a strong condemnation of the actions of these governments in working to deliberately abuse 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, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” Melzer said. “The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”
In 2016, after 16 months of investigation, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) concluded that Assange is the victim of arbitrary detention. Not only did the group of lawyers and human rights professionals release an opinion that Assange should be released, they also determined that he should be compensated by the governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom for “deprivation of liberty.”
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Prior to the release of the UN report, the publisher’s mother, Christine Assange tweeted that the “UK Gov is unlawfully slowly killing my son!”
“They made him very ill by refusing him ANY access to life sustaining fresh air, exercise, sun/VitD or proper medical care for 6 YEARS of illegal Embassy detention,” she tweeted at the United Nations Twitter account on Wednesday. “Then against ALL medical advice threw him into a prison cell.”
Assange is currently imprisoned at Belmarsh Prison in the United Kingdom and facing eighteen charges under the Espionage Act in the United States for his publication of the Iraq and Afghan War Logs. If extradited and convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. Chelsea Manning is currently back in prison for refusing to comply with another grand jury against the publisher — meaning that the US is still seeking to add additional charges.