Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly calls for Assange’s “prompt release”


  • amendment to report on Threats to Media Freedom and Journalists’ Security in Europe prepared by Labour peer Lord Foulkes adopted unanimously
  • Foulkes tells the Assembly that he and his colleagues “don’t want to see Julian Assange extradited to the United States to spend centuries in prison”
  • parliamentarians from across Europe will travel to London to monitor the extradition hearing next month

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has called
on member states to oppose the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian
Assange to the United State and resolve that “he must be promptly
released.” Assange is fighting extradition to the United States in an
unprecedented Espionage Act prosecution for journalistic activity. His
extradition hearing opens at Woolwich Crown Court in London on 24
February 2020.

The call was made late the afternoon in a debate on Threats to Media
Freedom and Journalists’ Security in Europe, which concluded with the
formal adoption of a report prepared by British Labour peer Lord
Foulkes. [1]

In his presentation to the Assembly, Lord Foulkes emphasised the
importance of the Council of Europe’s Platform to Promote the
Protection and Safety of Journalists. On 3 January, an urgent alert on
the Assange case was submitted to the platform by the IFJ and EFJ. [2]

Foulkes told the Assembly that he was happy to accept an amendment on
the Assange case because he and his colleagues on the PACE Committee on
Culture, Science, Education and Media “don’t want to see Julian Assange
extradited to the United States to spend centuries in prison.”

The resolution passed unanimously by the Assembly calls on member
states to foster a positive media environment and singles out the
treatment of Mr Assange as a threat to media freedom:

“[member states should] consider that the detention and criminal
prosecution of Mr Julian Assange sets a dangerous precedent for
journalists, and join the recommendation of the UN Special Rapporteur
on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment who declared, on 1 November 2019, that Mr Assange’s
extradition to the United States must be barred and that he must be
promptly released.”

While the report has no binding force, it increases pressure on the
British government to respond to international concerns about Assange.
Since 22 September 2019, Assange has been detained in Belmarsh Prison
solely for the purposes of the US extradition request. He was recently
moved from Belmarsh’s medical wing, where he was held in isolation for
over six months. In recent court appearances, Assange’s lawyers have
complained about not being granted adequate access to their client.

Andrej Hunko, member of the Bundestag and of the PACE said:

“After Brexit the United Kingdom will still be bound by the European
Convention on Human Rights and the European Court for Human Rights.
They are the last guarantee for Julian Assange’s right to a fair trial
and to the prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment that are
threatened in the ongoing process and would be fundamentally infringed
in case of an extradition to the US.”

In a PACE side-event on Monday, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils
Melzer criticised the failure of the UK, US and Sweden to engage with
his findings that Assange was showing all the symptoms of psychological
torture. Régis Brillat of the European Commmittee for the Prevention of
Torture (CPT) noted that the use of isolation should be frequently
reviewed and not used for long periods of time. Antony Bellanger of the
International Federation of Journalists and Assange’s father John
Shipton also spoke at the meeting, which was hosted by Andrej Hunko.

Senator Gianni Marilotti, who leads the Italian Parliamentary
Intergroup for monitoring the Assange case, told the meeting that :

“We should be surprised and in a certain way outraged by the
cautious silence kept by some states not only on Julian Assange’s
situation but also on the facts revealed by him through Wikileaks’

“This silence seems to authorise or support the US and the United
Kingdom’s behaviour in relation to an individual who is apparently
deprived of the right to prepare his defence as well of his right to
dignified psychological and physical conditions.”