WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will continue his fight in court against extradition to the US on 24 February. The US case for extradition of the publisher – effectively for the ‘crime’ of exposing government wrongdoing – is littered with flaws and faces widespread opposition from the public.
Now, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights has put another spanner in the works in the case against Assange. The commissioner, Dunja Mijatović, has released a statement insisting that the WikiLeaks founder should not face extradition. She’s not the only senior human rights figure doing so either.
Human rights implications
Mijatović released the statement on 20 February, just days before the next round in Assange’s fight against extradition. It reads:
Julian Assange’s potential extradition has human rights implications that reach far beyond his individual case. The indictment raises important questions about the protection of those that publish classified information in the public interest, including those that expose human rights violations.
Assange faces 18 charges in the US indictment against him. All of them relate to his publishing, in particular for releasing classified cables and information regarding the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. As Mijatović says, many of the charges against him “concern activities at the core of investigative journalism in Europe and beyond”. As a result, the commissioner asserts, any extradition based on such alleged offences, would have a “chilling effect” on the media and impair its ability to hold power to account.
Mijatović also raises the risk Assange faces at the hands of the US authorities, both in terms of any sentence itself – which could be up to 175 years – and detention conditions. She concludes:
In view of both the press freedom implications and the serious concerns over the treatment Julian Assange would be subjected to in the United States, my assessment as Commissioner for Human Rights is that he should not be extradited.
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A murderous system
As Mijatović highlights, Nils Melzer (the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) has regularly condemned the treatment of Assange by involved governments and the risks he faces from extradition. In May 2019, Melzer said:
Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.
I condemn, in the strongest terms, the deliberate, concerted and sustained nature of the abuse inflicted on Mr. Assange and seriously deplore the consistent failure of all involved governments to take measures for the protection of his most fundamental human rights and dignity
More recently, he spoke with Republik about the risk to journalism and human rights should the US succeed in extraditing Assange:
if investigative journalism is classified as espionage and can be incriminated around the world, then censorship and tyranny will follow. A murderous system is being created before our very eyes. War crimes and torture are not being prosecuted… At the same time, a person who exposes such things is being threatened with 175 years in prison. …
We give countries power and delegate it to governments – but in return, they must be held accountable for how they exercise that power. If we don’t demand that they be held accountable, we will lose our rights sooner or later…
Power corrupts if it is not monitored. Corruption is the result if we do not insist that power be monitored.
For the people, not the powerful
A David and Goliath battle is taking place in the Assange case.
On one side, there are powerful governments that appear intent on using the Assange case to teach journalists (and the public) a harsh lesson about how much accountability they’re willing to tolerate, particularly from the fourth estate.
On the other, there’s a man – and WikiLeaks – determined to reveal to people what their governments are doing in their name. In his corner stand those who care for people’s health and their human rights – along with many of ‘the people’ themselves.
Now it’s up to the courts to decide who will emerge the victor in this momentous and consequential battle. The judiciary, in no small part, is meant to function as a check on power. For Assange’s sake, and all our sakes, let’s hope it proves capable of fulfilling that critical duty.
Featured image via Cancillería del Ecuador/Wikimedia
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