Brussels (Brussels Morning) The UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, accused the US of trying to criminalise investigative journalism. Interviewed by Deutsche Welle, Melzer described the US treatment of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as “a political process and a travesty of justice”.
Assange, a controversial figure who helped publish several information leaks damaging to US intelligence and diplomacy, is currently in jail in Britain for breaching bail and is awaiting a court decision on extradition to the US, scheduled for 4 January.
Prosecuted for journalism
According to Melzer, the legal proceeding itself does not respect the basic standards of human rights with regard to due process and the rule of law. Assange, he noted, is being prosecuted by the US for espionage just because he practiced investigative journalism.
Melzer also accused the British judicial system of colluding with the US in breaching Assange’s rights. He pointed to how he had been placed in solitary confinement and deprived of rights to prepare his defence, to access his lawyers and legal documents – all without any legal basis.
The UN rapporteur said that he visited Assange a month after his arrest. He was accompanied by two specialised doctors – a psychiatrist and a forensic expert – who had worked with torture victims for 30 years. Both doctors independently concluded that Assange showed all the signs that typify victims of psychological torture.
No fair trial in US
Melzer told DW that Assange cannot expect a fair trial in the US, should he be extradited there. National security defendants in the US are being tried behind closed doors, based on secret evidence that the defence cannot access, with a jury that is inherently biased. He observed, for example, that no defendant has ever been acquitted at the espionage court in Alexandria, Virginia.
Despite his protests to the British authorities, they have refused to improve Assange’s living conditions, or to place him under house arrest, and had ceased to respond to his interventions. Melzer emphasised that, in cases of extradition detention, one should not be treated like a criminal. Assange had been put in a high security prison without any legal basis. Melzer claimed that the intent was clearly to intimidate other journalists, and to silence Assange so that he could not do his work.