UN Torture Expert Blasts British Government’s Failure to Address Treatment of Assange

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NEW YORK – Nils Melzer, the UN’s torture expert, published on 31 December a letter that he sent to the British government in which he blasts their failure to address the fact that Julian Assange has been tortured. Melzer published the letter, dated 29 October 2019, after noting on Twitter that more than 60 days had elapsed without a response from UK authorities, RIA Novosti reported.

He characterized the government’s continued failure to cease the unlawful treatment of the WikiLeaks publisher, and its failure to investigate the complicity of British officials, as a violation of the UK’s international legal obligations.

Melzer accuses the UK government of “severely undermin[ing] the credibility of the UK’s commitment to the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, as well as to the rule of law more generally”.

He explains that his official report regarding Assange’s condition resulted from a four-hour visit to the Wikileaks founder in Belmarsh maximum-security prison, accompanied by two experienced medical experts specialized in examining torture victims.

Melzer found that the British state had “contributed decisively” to Assange’s condition based upon “careful evaluation of the available evidence”. Melzer, who worked for 12 years as a lawyer for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that Assange’s treatment since 2010 means that his conviction for skipping bail is essentially arbitrary.

“Under the Convention against Torture, the UK Govt does not have the political discretion to simply reject such findings, but must conduct a prompt and impartial investigation and, if confirmed, prosecute the perpetrators and provide redress and rehabilitation to Mr. Assange,” he tweeted.

“In my view, recurring and serious due process violations in the UK have rendered both Assange’s criminal conviction/sentencing for bail violation and US extradition trial inherently arbitrary, to the point of making any legal remedies a pointless formality devoid of prospect,” he added.

He also stated that the anxiety and stress resulting from his treatment have directly contributed to his condition.

“The resulting anxiety, stress and hopelessness have significantly contributed to and are currently the primary cause for Assange’s continued exposure to psychological torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” he tweeted.

On 27 May 2019, Melzer sent an 18-page letter with evidence that Assange, whom the UN working group on arbitrary detention has repeatedly said was illegally detained and should be freed – since 2015, exhibited symptoms of psychological torture.

After detailing the sources of Assange’s mistreatment[pdf, pp5 -9] Melzer expressed grave concern that “Assange has been, and currently still is, exposed to progressively severe pain and suffering, inflicted through various forms and degrees of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which clearly amount to psychological torture”.

He requested a response from the UK government explaining how they would investigate these claims and address the continued mistreatment of Assange.

More than four months later on 7 October 2019 Julian Braithwaite, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN, returned with a one-page response. In it, Braithwaite denies that “Assange has been subjected to torture in any form as a result of actions by the UK Government”.

He said the UK government “never participates in or condones the use of torture” and rejected the idea that Assange was ever arbitrarily detained. On 22 November 2019 more than 60 medical professionals wrote an open letter to the UK home secretary Priti Patel urging her to take immediate action to protect Assange’s life by transferring him to a teaching hospital.

After the home office failed to respond they followed up with a second letter dated 4 December 2019 reiterating their grave concern that Assange could die from deliberate medical negligence and blasted the UK government’s behavior as incompatible with medical ethics and unworthy of a democratic society bound by the rule of law.

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