Julian Assange’s legal team has lodged an appeal to the High Court following last month’s decision of the Home Secretary Priti Patel to approve Assange’s extradition. The court must give its approval for the appeal to be heard, but it is likely the legal case will take months to conclude. It is not known when the court will rule on the appeal.
Meanwhile if you want to read a forensic analysis of the case and how the human rights of the WikiLeaks co-founder have been violated over the years, you could no better than read the recent book by Nils Melzer, currently the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
It is a book that by Melzer’s own admission he had not intended to write. Initially he declined to get involved in Assange’s case although he had been aware of WikiLeaks disclosures since 2010. But as he writes in The Trial of Julian Assange: A Story of Persecution, when he started to look closely at the facts, he found Assange to be a victim of political persecution.
Compelling evidence of political persecution
Like many, he had been influenced by much of the media coverage which had portrayed Assange as a rapist, a narcissist, a spy and a hacker. Assange’s lawyers had contacted him in his capacity as the special rapporteur on torture in December 2018 when Assange was still in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, asking for intervention under the conditions of the Anti-Torture Convention, as his living conditions were considered inhumane. After three months of studying the medical reports and further pressure from Assange’s lawyers he decided to look deeper into the case.
As Melzer explains in its introduction, he wrote the book because, “when investigating the case of Julian Assange, I came across compelling evidence of political persecution and gross judicial arbitrariness, as well as of deliberate torture and ill-treatment. But the responsible states (the UK, Sweden, Ecuador and the US) refused to co-operate with me in clearing up these allegations and to initiate the investigative measures required by international laws”.
Failures of judicial investigation
After his expulsion from the Ecuadorian Embassy in April 2019 where he had spent nearly seven years, followed by his immediate arrest and imprisonment, Melzer details his first visit to Assange in Belmarsh high-security prison in South East London on 9 May where he examined his health, prison conditions and treatment in order to draw clear conclusions based on reliable information for his investigations. Slowly the author began to assemble the story of a political persecution.
He goes onto examine in great detail the behaviour of the Swedish and UK authorities (including the Crown Prosecution Service) in dealing with the rape allegations against Assange. Chapter 6 ‘Swedish Judicial Persecution’ is 180 pages where he examines these allegations.
Here the author asserts that: ‘Every allegation of rape and other sexual offence must be rigorously investigated and every prosecutable case vigorously pursued, to a far greater extent than occurs now.’ But rather than conduct a rigorous investigation, Melzer finds that the Swedish authorities did everything to prevent a proper investigation and judicial resolution of the rape allegations against Assange. In so acting, they demonstrated a shocking indifference to the rights not only of Assange, but also of the two women involved.
Refuge becomes a trap
The following chapter ‘Ecuadorian Embassy Asylum’ deals with Assange’s near seven-year asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, how a refuge became a trap, and how surveillance measures were increased inside the embassy, especially from 2017. He also reveals that in March 2018 Ecuadorian officials begin to intensify their slander campaign against Assange (having partly restricted his internet access in October 2016) and received zealous support from their British counterparts.
In an Assange briefing to the House of Commons on 27 March, Alan Duncan, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas said, “It’s about time that this miserable little worm walked out of the embassy and gave himself up to British justice”.
The book also examines the US treatment of Chelsea Manning and the decision of the US authorities to seek Assange’s extradition on espionage charges (although at first they only came up with one charge of ‘conspiracy to commit computer intrusion’). After his arrest on 11 April 2019 having been dragged out of the embassy, they were increased to 18 when the US Justice Department announced a further 17 criminal charges against the WikiLeaks founder.
Implications for press freedom, due process, democracy and the rule of law
Melzer is also critical of the established press in the US, UK and Australia. Having elevated Assange to hero level when they only too willingly published the WikiLeaks findings in 2010, he accuses them of not understanding the existential danger posed by the trial of Assange to press freedom, due process, democracy and the rule of law. He asserts: “The painful truth is that, if only the main media organisations of the Anglosphere so decided, Assange’s persecution could be ended tomorrow.”
What’s more he states that: “Without a doubt, a comparable joint action of solidarity by The Guardian, the BBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post would put an immediate end to the persecution of Julian Assange.”
Co-written with the German author, Oliver Kobold The Trial of Julian Assange has been given very positive reviews. Daniel Ellsberg, the whistle blower behind The Pentagon Papers describes the book as:
“A stunning account of how official secrecy, corruption and impunity suffocate the truth and poison the rule of law. The present-day prosecution of Julian Assange aims to complete what Richard Nixon tried and failed to do in The Pentagon Papers case fifty years ago: rescind the foundation of our republic, The First Amendment protection of freedom of the press…It is the legal scandal of the century.”
As the author says: “The real purpose behind Assange’s imprisonment and trial is to deter journalists from exposing state crimes and intimidate them into not publishing material that challenges dominant political interests.”
The Trial of Julian Assange: A Story of Persecution by Nils Melzer with Oliver Kobold, published by Verso, £20. ISBN 9781839766220
Article first published in Media North: Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (North). For more from Media North, and to subscribe to their newsletter, visit their website.