UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer speaks with Ceren Sagir about Julian Assange and ongoing fears for the journalist’s health…
By Ceren Sağır
Published on MorningStar, Sept 20, 2019
Technically, Julian Assange is supposed to be released from his prison cell at HMP Belmarsh on Sunday.
Yet a British court ruled last week that he has to remain in prison after the custody period of his current jail term ends due to his “history of absconding.”
Assange is no longer a serving prisoner but someone facing extradition. Why is Assange actually being held prisoner?
Well, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer tells me that Assange’s case is not about law, but rather politics.
He says: “Trying to win any aspect of this case in the judicial arena has been a losing game for almost a decade because, from the outset, this case has been decided politically. His right to a fair trial has been systematically violated by all involved states.
“If this were about applying the law, he would have never been convicted of bail violation simply for seeking — and receiving — diplomatic asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy.
“If this were about applying the law, he would not be in extradition detention under a US indictment of espionage simply for doing investigative journalism.”
It seems that the only thing Assange is on trial for is the publication of the Chelsea Manning leaks.
Melzer says: “The only other charge against him is for allegedly trying to help Manning to decode a password, albeit unsuccessfully and without causing any harm whatsoever.
“Clearly, that is not a serious crime by any standards, and certainly not an offence any prosecutor would spend substantial resources on.”
Nor would he have been stripped of his asylum and his Ecuadorian citizenship without any form of due process and Britain would have given him safe passage from the embassy to Ecuador as required by law on diplomatic relations.
Melzer visited Assange soon after his arrest in May along with two medical professionals. In his official report, Melzer found that Assange had been exposed to psychological torture.
This should have triggered prompt and impartial investigations by the involved states, as unequivocally required by the Convention against Torture.
“By contrast, after 100 days and counting, the UK has not even responded to my official letter yet and Assange’s state of health is reportedly deteriorating as we speak,” Melzer says.
Melzer says he is “appalled” at how Britain is “simply ignoring” his report. He was mandated by the UN human rights council, which includes Britain, to report to states on their compliance with the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.
Once Melzer investigates a case and makes an official finding that an act of torture has been committed, then they have to at least conduct an impartial and transparent investigation into the case, even if they come to different conclusions.
“If we see the pervasiveness of the due process violations that have plagued this case for almost a decade, it looks highly unlikely that he will ever get an impartial and objective court in which it would be conceivable for him to win his case,” Melzer says.
The medical experts said Assange’s health was in a critical state, and the pressure and anxiety he was under needed to be alleviated urgently.
“They said that, if that pressure was not alleviated soon, his state of health would deteriorate rapidly — and that is exactly what happened,” Melzer says.
Soon after their visit, Assange was transferred to the prison’s health unit and was unable to participate in his first extradition meeting.
“He needs a psychiatrist that is not assigned by the government and he needs unrestricted access to his lawyers and to legal documents,” says Melzer.
During his hearing on Friday September 13, when asked if he understood what was happening, Assange replied: “Not really. I’m sure the lawyers will explain it.”
Melzer says that, to him, did not sound like Assange.
“He is someone extremely intelligent, so if he is in a state where he no longer understands what is going on in court — and the question addressed at that hearing really was not particularly complex — then he certainly is not well,” he says.
The Ecuadorian embassy in London has come out from time to with accusations on Assange’s behaviour, and Melzer is quite critical of the lack of evidence to support this.
He says: “All of the accusations made by Ecuador against Assange don’t really matter, as none of them even remotely could have justified expelling him from the embassy without any legal proceeding.
“Asylum is a status that cannot be revoked without due process of law.”
Melzer says: “If no-one likes Assange, if everybody thinks he’s a rapist, a hacker, a spy and a narcissist who doesn’t care for his cat, then people become more tolerant to the idea that he actually ‘deserves’ persecution and abuse.
“But once the precedent has been set, it can — and will — be applied to any other journalist.
“Then we will have case law authoritatively confirming that any journalist who publishes information that happens to be classified by a state must be regarded as a spy and put behind bars for the rest of his life — and that certainly is not a future I want to live in.”