08 December 2020
Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, has issued a press release calling for the immediate freeing of Julian Assange from Belmarsh prison, where he is being held pending proceedings to try to extradite him to the United States of America, and where there has been an outbreak of COVID-19. Melzer remarks that "Mr. Assange is not a criminal convict and poses no threat to anyone, so his prolonged solitary confinement in a high security prison is neither necessary nor proportionate and clearly lacks any legal basis."
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GENEVA (8 December 2020) – The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, today appealed to British authorities to immediately release Julian Assange from prison or to place him under guarded house arrest during US extradition proceedings.
He made the urgent call 10 years after Mr. Assange's first arrest on 7 December 2010, amid an outbreak of COVID-19 at Belmarsh prison. Reports say 65 of approximately 160 inmates, including a number in the wing where Mr. Assange is being held, have tested positive.
In an opinion rendered in December 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that since his arrest on 7 December 2010, Mr. Assange had been subjected to various forms of arbitrary deprivation of liberty, including 10 days of detention in London's Wandsworth prison; 550 days of house arrest, and the continuation of the deprivation of liberty in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London which lasted almost seven years. Since 11 April 2019, Mr. Assange has been held in near total isolation at Belmarsh.
"The British authorities initially detained Mr. Assange on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Sweden in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct that have since been formally dropped due to lack of evidence. Today, he is detained for exclusively preventative purposes, to ensure his presence during the ongoing US extradition trial, a proceeding which may well last several years," said Melzer.
"Mr. Assange is not a criminal convict and poses no threat to anyone, so his prolonged solitary confinement in a high security prison is neither necessary nor proportionate and clearly lacks any legal basis."
The progressively severe suffering inflicted on Mr. Assange, as a result of his prolonged solitary confinement, amounts not only to arbitrary detention, but also to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Melzer said.
He expressed particular concern about Mr. Assange's exposure to COVID-19 given his pre-existing medical condition. "Prison decongestion measures seen around the world in response to COVID-19 should be extended to all inmates whose imprisonment is not absolutely necessary," the expert said. "First and foremost, alternative non-custodial measures should be extended to those with specific vulnerabilities such as Mr. Assange who suffers from a pre-existing respiratory health condition."
Due to the significant risks associated with Mr. Assange's continued imprisonment, in conjunction with the broader concerns that have been repeatedly expressed concerning his treatment and conditions of detention, the expert reiterated previous appeals for Mr. Assange to be immediately released or placed under guarded house arrest.
"Mr. Assange's rights have been severely violated for more than a decade. He must now be allowed to live a normal family, social and professional life, to recover his health and to adequately prepare his defence against the US extradition request pending against him," he said.
In light of the expected first instance decision on his extradition on 4 January 2021, the expert also reiterated his call to the British authorities not to extradite Mr. Assange to the US due to serious human rights concerns.
*The expert: Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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