UK Replies to Council of Europe Level 1 Threat ‘Detention and Imprisonment of Journalists’

Threat raised 7th January 2020; Response delivered 20th March 2020 on the CoE Platform to promote the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists

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Editors Note: The response seems to over look the disproportionate sentencing issues and arbitrary nature of detention. It might also be possible the prosecution has already argued the safeguards of the Extradition Act 2003 as outlined below do not apply.

UK Response

UK State reply to alert “Continued Detention of WikiLeaks Founder and Publisher Julian Assange”
Received by e-mail on 20 March 2020

Mr Julian Assange is accused of unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defence of the US, and of computer misuse. The US extradition request for Mr. Assange is governed by Part 2 of the Extradition Act 2003. The Act provides a person whose extradition is sought by another jurisdiction with full and effective safeguards. For example, the court must consider human rights issues, including whether the person will receive a fair trial.

The next stage in the US extradition proceedings is a Magistrates’ Court hearing at which Mr. Assange may challenge his extradition on the grounds of the statutory bars in the Extradition Act, such as human rights. The hearing began on 24 February 2020 for one week and will continue on 18 May for three weeks.

Statement of Threat

Julian Assange, founder and publisher of WikiLeaks, is currently detained in Belmarsh high-security prison, United Kingdom, pending extradition to the United States of America. On 11 April 2019, after the Government of Ecuador had decided to stop granting him asylum in its London embassy, Assange was arrested by the British police, and found guilty that day of breaching the UK Bail Act. On 1 May 2019, he was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison in the United Kingdom, and the Government of the United States unsealed an indictment against him for alleged computer intrusion, based on a series of leaks provided by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The charges were extended on 23 May 2019 to violating the US Espionage Act of 1917. 

Several lawyers, politicians, journalists and academics consider Assange’s arrest in the United Kingdom and prosecution in the United States for publishing leaked documents of public interest an attack on press freedom and international law. After examining Assange in prison on 9 May 2019, UN special rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Nils Melzer concluded: “In addition to physical ailments, Mr Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.” In a letter sent on 29 October 2019 to the UK Government, Melzer wrote: “I found that the UK had contributed decisively to producing the observed medical symptoms, most notably through its participation, over the course of almost a decade, in Mr. Assange’s arbitrary confinement, his judicial persecution, as well as his sustained and unrestrained public mobbing, intimidation and defamation. (…) British officials have contributed to Mr. Assange’s psychological torture or ill-treatment, whether through perpetration, or through attempt, complicity or other forms of participation. (…) Recurring and serious violations of Mr. Assange’s due process rights by UK authorities have rendered both his criminal conviction and sentencing for bail violation and the US extradition proceedings inherently arbitrary. (…) The detention regime currently imposed on Mr. Assange appears to be unnecessary, disproportionate, and discriminatory and to perpetuate his exposure to psychological torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”