In August 2022, George Miller posted an article translated from Nils Melzer in Le Monde Diplomatique
Double standards on ‘Britain’s only political prisoner’
Julian Assange is in the UK’s Belmarsh high-security prison, fighting extradition to the United States. The implications of his treatment for democracy go far beyond one man’s fate.
As Special Rapporteur on Torture, I was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor compliance with the global prohibitions on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments and punishments, investigate alleged violations of these prohibitions and transmit questions and recommendations to the states concerned with the aim of clarifying individual cases. When I investigated Julian Assange’s case, I found irrefutable evidence of political persecution and arbitrary judicial decisions, as well as deliberate torture and ill-treatment. Yet the states responsible (the US, UK, Sweden and Ecuador) refused to cooperate with me in carrying out the investigative procedure required under international law.
The Assange case is the story of a man persecuted and mistreated for revealing the sordid secrets of the powerful, in particular, war crimes, torture and corruption. It’s a story of deliberately arbitrary judicial decisions made by Western democracies eager to claim exemplary human rights records. It’s a story of deliberate collusion by intelligence services without the knowledge of national parliaments and the public. And it’s a story of manipulated and manipulative reporting by the mainstream media to deliberately isolate, demonise and destroy an individual.
In a democracy governed by rule of law, everyone is equal before the law. In essence, this means that comparable cases should be treated in the same way. Like Julian Assange, who is currently being held in Belmarsh high-security prison, the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was held in British extradition detention, from 16 October 1998 to 2 March 2000. Spain, Switzerland, France and Belgium sought to prosecute him for torture and crimes against humanity. Like Assange today, Pinochet described himself as ‘Britain’s only political prisoner’.
Unlike Assange, however, Pinochet was not accused of having obtained and published evidence of torture, murder and corruption, but . . .
Nils Melzer is Human Rights Chair at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and was UN Special Rapporteur on Torture from 2016 to 2022. He is the author of The Trial of Julian Assange: a Story of Persecution, Verso, 2022, on which this article is based.