An independent UN human rights expert has welcomed a British court’s refusal to extradite Wikileaks founded Julian Assange to the United States on the basis that he would be exposed to oppressive conditions of imprisonment.
In a news release on Tuesday, Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, noted that such conditions would almost certainly cause Assange to commit suicide.
“This ruling confirms my own assessment that, in the United States, Assange would be exposed to conditions of detention, which are widely recognized to amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said the Special Rapporteur.
The Wikileaks founder is currently being held in prolonged solitary confinement at Belmarsh Prison in London under a US extradition request for espionage and computer fraud.
“If extradited to the United States, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years imprisonment under inhumane conditions of near total isolation,” Melzer added.
According to the news release, the Special Rapporteur repeatedly expressed in individual communications and statements that Assange has been subjected to more than 10 years of arbitrary detention and political persecution. During a visit conducted to Belmarsh Prison in 2019, the rights expert and a specialized medical team found that Assange showed all the symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture.
At the same time, Monday’s court judgement sets an alarming precedent effectively denying investigative journalists the protection of press freedom and paving the way for their prosecution under charges of espionage, Melzer said.
“I am gravely concerned that the judgement confirms the entire, very dangerous rationale underlying the US indictment, which effectively amounts to criminalizing national security journalism,” added the rights expert.
The US has announced it will appeal the judgment, but welcomed the judge’s dismissal of all arguments in defence of Assange based on press freedom, the public interest in the exposure of government misconduct, the prohibition of political offence extraditions, and the US failure to provide fair trials to national security defendants, according to the news release.
“This is of great concern,” said Melzer, adding that “none of these questions will now be reviewed by the Appeals Court, as the only issue at stake will be Assange’s medical fitness to withstand US conditions of detention.”
“Should the US provide assurances that Assange will be treated humanely, his extradition could potentially be confirmed on appeal without any meaningful review of the very serious legal concerns raised by this case,” he said.