INTERVIEW | UN expert calls to prevent extradition of Julian Assange

ИНТЕРВЬЮ | Эксперт ООН призывает не допустить экстрадицию Джулиана Ассанжа

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Alice Jill Edwards. INTERVIEW | UN expert calls to prevent extradition of Julian Assange Human Rights

Ahead of Julian Assange’s upcoming trial in the UK and his possible extradition to the US, independent UN human rights expert Alice Jill Edwards has raised concerns about the potential for serious rights violations against the founder of WikiLeaks. She also warned that the fallout from the case could have a significant impact on free speech around the world.

Edwards, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, called on the UK authorities to prevent Assange’s extradition. In an interview with Anton Uspensky of the UN News Service, Edwards said she was concerned about Assange’s mental and physical health. His latest appeal is due to be heard at the High Court in London on February 20-21.

Assange faces 18 criminal charges in the US for his alleged role in illegally obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to national defense, including evidence exposing alleged war crimes. He has been in the UK since 2019, where he is currently being held at Belmarsh Prison.

UN News Service: Why are you concerned about the possible extradition of Julian Assange from the UK to the USA? What are the main legal and human rights arguments against such a decision?

E . J. Edwards: The Julian Assange case is a long-running legal saga in the United Kingdom, spanning several years. My role as UN Special Rapporteur is to speak up whenever there is significant information that someone may be sent to a place where they are at risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

The United Kingdom is a party to the UN Convention against Torture as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. Both [documents] have an equivalent article, article number three, which prohibits states from sending people to places where they might face these types of treatment. In the case of Assange, based on the material that has been provided to me, as well as what has been documented by the court, there are three reasons why I am particularly concerned at this stage.

Firstly, Mr. Assange – and this is well documented and also accepted by the court and is the reason why his extradition has been stayed until today – suffers from a depressive disorder. Any extradition to the United States would likely worsen his illness—and there was a very real risk of suicide.

The second reason is that Mr. Assange faces detention in the United States while awaiting trial and during his trial. If he is found guilty, of course, he will also be punished with imprisonment. The United States has a long history of using isolation and solitary confinement, in which people are kept in separate cells with no opportunity for communication.

The Nelson Mandela Rules, which govern the [standard minimum rules Treatment of Prisoners] indicate that 15 days of isolation or solitary confinement amounts to torture. There is therefore a high likelihood that any form of isolation and solitary confinement will have an irreparable impact on Assange’s psychological and even potentially physical health.

And the third reason why I believe that this extradition will most likely not meet the requirements of article three is that Mr. Assange faces a penalty of 175 years in prison…

The European Court of Human Rights has found that grossly disproportionate sentences – which I believe include the 175 year sentence for the charges against Assange – constitute ill-treatment under international law.

UN News Service: As someone who has been following developments in the Assange case, could you tell us whether his current conditions of detention comply with the relevant conventions – the way he is being treated now?

E. J. Edwards:I cannot answer this question. My predecessor visited Mr Assange in Belmarsh maximum security prison. I was not there, and it has been several years since a UN official visited.

UN News Service: What is your message to the UK authorities and was there any reaction from them? Any comments on your appeals?

E. J. Edwards: I’m appealing to the UK through the courts – it’s a process that goes through the courts. But it is ultimately up to the Secretary of State to determine whether extradition will proceed if the court allows it. I call for some kind of decision to be made in the Assange case. This is his last appeal. This is where his appeal options end. It is very important that this case is looked at very carefully because of the very dire consequences for Mr. Assange… his health and well-being. This is my message to the British authorities.

Read also:

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture calls on UK government to prevent extradition of Julian Assange to US

UN News Service: Do you believe that the extradition of Mr. Assange could set a dangerous precedent for press freedom and journalism around the world and for cases being pursued against whistleblowers? and journalists?

E. J. Edwards: I believe that states should be able to interact diplomatically and conduct confidential correspondence among themselves. Indeed, international peace and security depend on security in this area. However, human rights require transparency in cases of violations or war crimes, as is alleged in some of the cables and information released.

Every law, be it treason law or national security law, must include whistleblower protection. At this stage in the United States, as far as I understand, the situation is different. Applicable laws have not been updated to reflect 21st century human rights standards. And this is very problematic for anyone in a situation similar to Mr. Assange’s who would want to expose information about activities that are being carried out or allegedly carried out by their governments.

In fact, the entire international system operates on the basis of our ability to speak our minds, speak freely, disclose [information], and hold governments accountable for potential violations. And then, of course, there must be accountability.

So the world is watching this matter very closely. I would like to see the United States and Great Britain come to some kind of solution… that does not require Assange to be extradited to the United States, given his current state of health.

* Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. They work on a voluntary basis and are independent of any government or organization. They act in a personal capacity, are not UN employees and do not receive a salary.


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