UN rapporteur on torture ‘scared to find out more about our democracies’ after delving into Assange case
Discovering that the cruelty visited on Julian Assange by Western democracies had been premeditated has heightened the fear of learning more about how those democracies operate, the UN’s rapporteur on torture has admitted.
For years Nils Melzer has been researching on behalf of the UN just how vile and degrading the mistreatment of prisoners can become. But learning that states that are supposed to be champions of human rights can be as brutal as any other with people who cross them was quite a shock. The case that made Melzer reassess his beliefs is that of Julian Assange, who, he says, had signs of "prolonged psychological torture" while in the UK.
A sign in support of Julian Assange outside Woolwich Crown Court. ©REUTERS / Henry Nicholls
“First I was shocked that mature democracies could produce such an accident. Then I found out it was no accident. Now, I am scared to find out about our democracies…” the UN official tweeted on Sunday, marking a year since his visit to check on Assange at the UK’s Belmarsh top security prison.
Melzer became a vocal advocate of Assange’s rights after delving into his case last year. In April of 2019, the co-founder of the transparency website WikiLeaks was kicked out of Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he’d enjoyed asylum for years. He was then jailed by Britain over skipping bail. The case of alleged sexual abuse in Sweden, which led to a request for extradition of Assange and ultimately landed him in trouble with British law, has since been dropped.
Still, Assange remains locked at the prison usually reserved for most dangerous violent criminals in the UK, even as his health reportedly is further deteriorating with him behind bars. Now he is formally wanted by US justice over alleged computer crimes, though his defenders say this is nothing but Washington’s attempt at retaliation for his having exposed America’s dirty secrets.
WikiLeaks rose to greater prominence after publishing footage of the mass killings of civilians in Baghdad in US helicopter airstrikes. It released secret documents on that country’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as classified US diplomatic cables, CIA hacking manuals and other sensitive material. The publisher faces an effective life term if tried and convicted in the US.
After medical experts accompanying Melzer during last year’s visit concluded that Assange was a victim of psychological torture due to his arbitrary detention, the UN official called on the four nations –the US, UK, Sweden and Ecuador – involved in his case to launch a formal probe.
None would oblige, even though their ratification of the UN Convention against Torture means it was their responsibility to act, Melzer told journalists last October.
No changes in Assange’s legal situation are expected before September, when his extradition hearing may resume. The proceedings were postponed last week due to social-distancing
measures in the UK, which have disrupted the work of the court system.