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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/31/19

U.N. Special Rapporteur Calls for Julian Assange to Be Freed, Citing "Psychological Torture"

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The United Nations special rapporteur on torture is warning that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is suffering from the effects of "psychological torture" due to his ongoing detention and threats of possible extradition to the United States. The U.N. expert, Nils Melzer, also warned that Assange would likely face a "politicized show trial" if he were to be extradited to the United States. Melzer writes, "In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time." Julian Assange is currently serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail in 2012 at London's Belmarsh Prison, after he was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorean Embassy by British police last month.

Last week, the U.S. Justice Department announced it was charging Assange with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for his role in publishing U.S. classified military and diplomatic documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assange, who had already been charged on one count of hacking a government computer, now faces up to 170 additional years in prison under the new charges -- 10 years for each count of violating the Espionage Act. Assange was due to appear by video link before a magistrates' court on Thursday but failed to appear, reportedly due to health problems. We speak with U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations special rapporteur on torture is warning that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is suffering from the effects of psychological torture due to his ongoing detention and threats of possible extradition to the United States. The U.N. expert, Nils Melzer, also warned Assange would likely face a "politicized show trial" if he were to be extradited to the United States. Melzer writes, quote, "In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time." Melzer spoke to reporters this morning in Geneva, Switzerland.

NILS MELZER: And our finding was that Mr. Assange shows all the symptoms of a person who has been exposed to psychological torture for a prolonged period of time. So what we're speaking about is severe stress and constant stress, a chronic anxiety, severe psychological trauma. The psychiatrists that accompanied my mission said that his state of health is critical, and if he did not get urgent relief, that we would have to expect a rapid deterioration of that state of health, and possibly with irreparable harm.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange is currently serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail in 2012 at London's Belmarsh Prison, after he was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he lived for seven years, by British police last month.

Last week, the U.S. Justice Department announced it was charging Assange with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for his role in publishing U.S. classified military and diplomatic documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documents were leaked by U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. This is the first time a journalist or publisher has been charged under the World War I-era act. Assange, who had already been charged on one count of hacking a government computer, now faces up to 170 additional years in prison in the U.S. under the new charges -- 10 years for each count of violating the Espionage Act.

Julian Assange was due to appear by video link before a magistrates' court on Thursday but failed to appear, reportedly due to health problems. Assange's attorney Jennifer Robinson appeared on Democracy Now! last week and spoke about his deteriorating health.

JENNIFER ROBINSON: I am very concerned about the ongoing health issues that he has and whether he's getting adequate medical treatment here within the British prison system. He's finding it very difficult. He's very isolated. And I think the prospect of a very long extradition fight and potential extradition to the United States is a real concern. But, of course, he is resolved to fight this, as he said at his first extradition hearing. He refused to consent to extradition to the United States, because he would not be extradited for doing journalism. And this case raises -- as we've seen from the free speech groups that have come out overnight, this case raises fundamental questions of free speech, which is why he is resolved to absolutely fighting this extradition.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Geneva, Switzerland, where we're joined by Nils Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Why don't you begin by telling us the results of your report and describing your visit to see Julian Assange at the Belmarsh Prison in London?

NILS MELZER: Thank you, Amy. Well, I did visit Mr. Assange in prison, Belmarsh Prison, on the 9th of May in the company of two medical experts. And my primary concerns really are that I'm extremely worried about his current state of health, which was alarming already when I visited him and which seems to have deteriorated rapidly since then, to the point where he's no longer even able to stand trial and to participate in court hearings.

I must say that I'm appalled at the sustained and concerted abuse that this man has been exposed to at the hands of several democratic states over a period of almost a decade. And I'm gravely concerned about the prospects of a possible extradition to the United States. As I have indicated this morning in Geneva, I worry that he would be exposed to a politicized show trial in violation of his human rights.

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