International Jurists’ Letter to British Authorities

As international jurists, with an acute awareness of the responsibilities that our profession demands of us, we call on the British authorities to refuse the request for the extradition of Mr Julian Assange to the United States. We also call for his immediate release.

As international jurists, with an acute awareness of the responsibilities that our profession demands of us, we call on the British authorities to refuse the request for the extradition of Mr Julian Assange to the United States. We also call for his immediate release.

The treatment of Mr Assange, the circumstances surrounding his continued detention in Belmarsh maximum security prison, and the circumstances surrounding British attempts to comply with the US request for his extradition, highlight:

  1. the involvement of the United Kingdom in long-term, severe, psychological ill-treatment of Mr Assange (ECHR Article 3)
  2. the disregard shown by the British authorities towards their duties and responsibilities under international law
  3. the disregard by the British authorities of British law, including Mr Assange’s right to a fair trial (ECHR Article 6), for protection of his private life (ECHR Article 8) and his right to freedom of speech (ECHR Article 10)
  4. the sweeping, extraordinary, extra-territorial claims now being made by the United States, who are seeking to prosecute in the US and under US laws, non-US citizens for conduct outside the United States (including in jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom where that conduct is lawful). 
  1. UK involvement in the psychological torture and mistreatment of Mr Assange (infringement of ECHR Article 3):

International human rights experts,  healthcare professionals and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Prof. Nils Melzer,  have all found that Mr Assange has been subjected to arbitrary confinement, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment amounting to torture. They note that the torture poses grave risks of significant physical, psychological, neuropsychological harm, withlife-changing and potentially fatal consequences for Mr Assange. Prof. Melzer has found the British state responsible for Mr Assange’s torture “through perpetration, or through attempt, complicity or other forms of participation”. This involvement of the British authorities in the psychological torture and mistreatment of Mr Assange violates his rights under ECHR Article 3 and takes various forms:

  1. Interference in the Swedish investigations, and inordinate protraction of Mr Assange’s detention:

Mr Assange originally sought asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy - as was his right - because he was concerned that if extradited to Sweden where he was being investigated in relation to (now-abandoned) sexual assault allegations, he might be subjected to onward rendition from Sweden to the United States(or another state with a US interrogation facility / black site), for which there were precedents. Whilst physically present in the embassy, Mr Assange offered to make himself available for interview by the Swedish authorities, whether in person or by video link, so as to facilitate the investigation of the sexual assault allegations.  Mr Assange also offered to go to Sweden, subject to an assurance from the Swedish authorities that he would not be rendered to the United States.
Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that the Swedish authorities may have been minded to accept Mr. Assange’s offers of interviews in the embassy or by video link.  However, they were dissuaded from doing so by the British authorities. The Crown Prosecution Service repeatedly urged Swedish authorities not to interview Mr Assange in the United Kingdom and suggested they insist instead on his extradition to Sweden. This compelled Mr. Assange to remain in the embassy for many years, despite the injury this was known to be causing to his health. Even the Stockholm Chief District Prosecutor has describedthe Swedish extradition effort, now known to have been urged on the Swedish authorities by the United Kingdom’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), as: “… unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate.”
Requests under the Freedom of Information Act show that the CPS specifically and repeatedly urged the Swedish authorities to keep their investigation of Mr Assange ongoing. In such missives, the CPS made extraordinary comments such as, “….do not think this case is being treated as just another extradition” and “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”, discouraging the Swedish authorities from concluding their investigations.
Mr Assange was therefore unduly confined to the Ecuadorean embassy, on the urging of the UK authorities, when in fact, there were no charges to answer in Sweden. The United Kingdom therefore shares responsibility for the severe injury to health that Mr. Assange suffered as a consequence of this protracted and unnecessary stay at the embassy, and the consequent damage which the British authorities, in part caused, through their arbitrary, disproportionate and illegal treatment of Mr Assange.

  1. Denial of Medical Treatment whilst in the embassy:
    Assange had to endure
    debilitating and painful medical conditions in the embassy. These conditions included an excruciating tooth abscess and a serious injury to his shoulder, both of which remained untreated for several years.
    Mr Assange was denied permission by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to leave the Embassy to receive hospital treatment. This was despite a request from the Ecuadorean embassy to the British government for such access to be provided on medical grounds.
  2. Conditions of Mr Assange’s detention since his forced removal from the embassy and subsequent denial of proper medical treatment
    Disregarding the well-established principle of ‘
    proportionality’, Mr Assange, an award-winning journalist with complex healthcare needs (some of which are the result of the mistreatment he endured whilst forced to remain in the embassy), was given a custodial sentence of 50 weeks in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison for the offence of skipping police bail. This sentence was not only harsh and disproportionate; in the circumstances, given Ecuador’s granting of asylum and the findings of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (see above), it was vindictive.

The conditions in which Mr Assange continues to be detained whilst on remand also appear harsh, disproportionate and vindictive. Mr Assange poses no threat to the public.  Given the significant breakdown in his health he is not a flight risk. Yet the court, even before his lawyers had initiated any application for bail in the extradition proceedings, said that he would be remanded in custody because of his behaviour “in these proceedings”. Yet, at the time there had been no proceedings in the extradition case. He has been kept in custody in a maximum-security prison which the UN special rapporteur referred to, as “oppressive conditions of isolation involving at least 22 hours per day in a single occupancy cell… [He] is not allowed to socialize with other inmates and, when circulating in the prison, corridors are cleared and all other inmates locked in their cells. Contrary to assurances …..by the prison administration….., and contrary to the general population of the prison, Mr. Assange reportedly still is not allowed to work or to go to the gym, where he could socialize with other inmates.”
Visitors to Mr Assange have
reported that he was wearing prison uniform despite only being a remand prisoner, that he is denied civilian clothes, and that his access to his prescription glasses was “inexplicably delayed” for months, after they were sent to him at Belmarsh . Coming after 9 years of arbitrary and illegal detention in the embassy, the harsh and disproportionate conditions in which Mr Assange is being held have unsurprisingly caused further grave injury to his health. An international group of doctors has expressed serious concern for his present and future safety and wellbeing. They too have called for him to urgently receive appropriate treatment there. British authorities bear responsibility for the ongoing situation.

  1. Disregard for international law and infringement of Mr Assange’s rights as a refugee:

Sweden, the United Kingdom and Ecuador are parties to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which places on States an obligation to respect non-refoulement with no reservations. Not only have Mr Assange’s rights as a refugee been ignored, U.K. authorities have helped undermine Mr  Assange’s rights as an Ecuadorean citizen to protections under Ecuadorean law such as a protection against extradition. In addition, the U.K. authorities have not paid due regard to the clear findings of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on the arbitrary detention of Mr Assange. Importantly, the U.K. authorities have repeatedly ignored their duty to investigate the serious concerns raised by the UN Special Rapporteur Prof Nils Melzer in relation to the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

  1. Disregard for Mr Assange’s right to a fair trial (ECHR Article 6), and for protection of his private life (ECHR Article 8)

Mr Assange has suffered sustained infringement of his private life, whilst the conduct of the legal proceedings which have been brought against him, has been riddled with procedural irregularities that call into question the possibility of a fair trial.

  1. Intrusive Surveillance: It is now known that Mr Assange and his visitors, including his lawyers, were put under extraordinary levels of covert surveillance within the Ecuadorean embassy at the behest of the US. Evidence has now emerged to prove that this surveillance breached not just the diplomatic sovereignty of the Ecuadorean embassy, but also Mr Assange’s human rights in respect of privacy, and attorney-client privilege. It also intensified his torture. Prof.Melzer notes, “relentless surveillance for 24 hours a day is often used deliberately in psychological torture in order to drive victims into paranoia, except that the victim’s perception actually corresponds to reality”.
  2. Destruction of Evidence: When the actions of the British and Swedish authorities came to be scrutinised via Freedom of Information Act requests and through other channels, it emerged that evidentiary trails - including communications with the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) – have been destroyed by Swedish and British prosecutors, with no plausible explanation provided.
  3. Political interference: Senior UK governmental ministers have boasted about using their diplomatic skills and cloutto broker a dealwithEcuador’s new government to rescind Mr Assange’s asylum so that he could be taken into custody.
  4. Inability to Prepare Defence: Mr. Assange has been subjected to material and repeated disruptions both with respect to his access to the documents he needs in order to prepare his case and with respect to the facilities he needs in order to consult with his lawyers so that he can prepare his defence.
  5. Concerns about impartiality: Officials responsible for key decisions about various aspects of Mr Assange’s case have made inappropriate comments about him, suggesting high levels of prejudice and bias. For example, Mr Assange has been called a ‘narcissist’ by a judge during a court hearing. There are also concerns that the senior judge who dealt with his previous case appears to have had serious, multiple conflicts of interest.  All this has led to doubts about whether an attempt to deny Mr Assange a fair investigation of his case may be underway.
  6. Failure to respond to UN and other experts: UN officials have stated publicly that Mr Assange has been detained illegally and arbitrarily and has been tortured. The British authorities have an obligation to engage with and to investigate these criticisms.Instead their responses to UN officials have been belated, improper and inadequate. Moreover, those responsible for these inadequate replies are those – in the British government and the criminal justice system – who are specifically responsible for ensuring that justice is served.

 

  1. US extra-territorial overreach and the dangers to Mr Assange from extradition to the United States

The extradition request made by the US authorities in itself gives rise to serious concerns.  Mr Assange is an Australian citizen and a journalist based in the United Kingdom. There is no suggestion that he has ever broken any British law whilst undertaking his work as a journalist in the United Kingdom.

Mr Assange, however, faces an extradition request from the United States in which the US authorities claim that he has committed offences including under the US Espionage Act, which applies exclusively to the jurisdiction of the United States.  The charges the US authorities are seeking to bring against Mr. Assange are seen by many journalists around the world as an open assault against investigative journalismas it is practiced. These demands by the US authorities for the extradition to the United States of an Australian journalist based in the United Kingdom must inevitably give rise to serious concerns about the extraordinary extra-territorial demands which the US authorities are now making. The consequences if such demands are accepted by the UK to facilitate the extradition of a multi award-winningjournalist and publisher are a matter of great concern.

There must also be serious concerns, whether in the context of such demands, Mr Assange has any realistic prospect of a fair trial if he is extradited to the United States.  This is especially concerning given the disproportionate, cruel and inhuman punishment with which Mr. Assange is being threatened if he is convicted in the United States. His alleged accomplice and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, after already serving a lengthy prison term in often inhumane conditions, is now being held in indefinite detention in order to coerce her into giving evidence against Mr Assange. Mr Assange faces a possible prison sentence of 175 years. Extraditing Mr Assange to the United States would in such circumstances not only be inhumane and wrong; it would set a disastrous precedent, legitimising the US authorities’ practice of extra-territorial overreach, whilst infringing Mr Assange’s human rights in the most fundamental way, putting his very life at risk. It would also set the scene for a trial whose eventual outcome might set extraordinarily dangerous precedents which could endanger the entire practice of journalism.

Conclusion

Under the rule of law, a State is required to afford all defendants their human rights and to honour international law whether “deriving from treaty or from international custom and practice”.

Such considerations are not intended to be optional or dependent on the nature of the crime.  Nor are they justified by the nature of the circumstances; nor are they implemented at the discretion of the judge or the State.

As Lord Bingham eloquently reminds jurists in his eponymous 2006 lecture on the subject, the constitutional principle of the ‘Rule of Law’ is statutory and paramount.

Yet time and time again in Mr Assange’s case, we have seen the law ignored, manipulated  or summarily rejected.

We call on the British legal community to reclaim professional standards, to condemn the torture of Mr Assange and to engage in urgent actions to secure his immediate and safe release.

 

Here is the form to sign the letter 

Signatories :

Eva JolyLawyer, Paris Bar, Former judge, Paris Court,

Greg BarnsBarrister, Salamanca Chambers Hobart Australia and former National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance 

"Many Australian lawyers are rightly disturbed by the Assange case. It represents a threat by the United States to abuse extra-territorial reach so it can seek to prosecute individuals who have no link with the US jurisdiction but who simply publish material which displeases Washington. There is also concern that an Australian citizen will be subjected to an effective death penalty if he is found guilty"

Nancy HollanderCriminal Defense Lawyer 

Robert TibboBarrister-at-law, Eastern Chambers, Hong Kong

"Julian Assange is the victim of ill-treatment, torture and persecution based on political opinion in his exercising his international rights to freedom of expression as a journalist and publisher. He has exposed egregious, unlawful and criminal conduct of a number of powerful nations abusing its powers and committing atrocities. These governments have resorted to using their enormous political powers and resources to permanently silence Mr Assange with a clear motivation to create a global chilling effect on journalism and freedom of expression. The world is at a turning point in history where Mr Assange should be publicly and vocally supported and the United States, United Kingdom and other nations be held to account for their unlawful treatment of him, but also to be held to answer for the unlawful acts they have committed as exposed by Mr Assange in publishing evidence provided by whistle-blowers."

Marie-Anne CohendetProfesseure de Droit Public L’Ecole de Droit de la Sorbonne Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Julian Burnside AO, QC, Barrister

"I have acted for Julian Assange in the past, and I think our government has neglected him shockingly.  Australia should have acted years ago to bring him home safely. Both Liberal and Labor governments in Australia have ignored his plight. It raises a real question whether citizenship means anything beyond liability to pay tax. Australia should persuade the UK to get him to Australia as soon as possible.  The USA can seek to extradite him from Australia, if it wishes to pursue that approach."

Charles Hector FernandezAdvocate and Solicitor, Messrs Charles Hector, Malaysia Carl J Mayer, Esq. Lawyer and consumer advocate, Mayer Law Group Llc

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Esq. Human Rights Lawyer; President of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund

"It is unconscionable that the U.S. government is seeking to put Julian Assange in prison for the rest of his life for publishing truthful information. It is also unconscionable that mainstream media outlets that published information obtained through Wikileaks are not coming forward to defend Mr. Assange and fundamental principles of freedom of the press. The torture of Mr. Assange and attempted extradition is evidence of a dangerous pattern of escalating attacks on core First Amendment rights and dissent in the U.S."

Craig TuckHuman rights lawyer Transnational criminal defence specialist, Director of LawAid International 

"This case is arguably one of the most important on the planet. It defines what is meant by the words: Australian citizen, journalist and modern democracy. Bring Julian Assange home to Australia."

Heidi Boghosian, Esq., Executive Director,  A.J. Muste Institute, Inc.

"The DOJ has hit an all-time low with its multi-count indictment of Julian Assange. Together, the ill-suited Espionage Act and the overly-broad Computer Fraud and Abuse Act--inflamed by a conspiracy charge--are toxic for a free press and the public's right to know. "

Diane RomanProfesseure à l’école de Droit de la Sorbonne, Université de Paris 1 Spécialiste de libertés fondamentales

Catherine Teitgen-CollyProfesseure émérite de l’Université de Paris 1 

Thomas PerroudProfesseur de Droit Public, Université Panthéon-Assas

Alberto Alemanno, Professeur  de Droit HEC et NYU

Arlette Heymann-DoatProfesseur émérite de Droit Public, Spécialiste des libertés fondamentales, Université de Paris Sud

Marie-Joëlle Fichrot-RedorProfesseure honoraire Droits Fondamentaux Université de Caen

Dominique CustosProfesseure Droits Fondamentaux à l’Université de Caen

William BourdonAvocat au Barreau de Paris

James LaffertyExecutive Director Emeritus, National Lawyers Guild, LA

Marjorie CohnProfessor Emerita, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, USA

Philippe Texier, Magistrat, Ancien Conseiller à la Cour de Cassation 

Mamadou Konate, Avocat au Barreau de Bamako et Paris Ancien Garde des Sceaux

Vincent Brengarth, Avocat au Barreau de Paris

Dr Thomas Harrè, Barrister

Géraldine Giraudeau,Agrégée des facultés de droit, Professeure de droit public à l'UPVD 

Professor Heather Ellis Cucolo, Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law New York Law School Director, International Society of Therapeutic Jurisprudence

"To demand the extradition of Julian Assange is hypocrisy at its best. President Donald Trump’s administration has refused to cooperate with the ICC and has threatened retaliatory steps against ICC staff and member countries should the court investigate U.S. citizens. Furthermore, President Trump spoke to the U.N. General Assembly and declared that the “United States will provide no support or recognition to the International Criminal Court.”  In defending its lack of support, Washington has continually raised the concern that the treaty contained insufficient protections against politicized prosecutions.  Mr. Assange would no doubt face a politicized show trial in the United States. The current administration has openly encouraged the use of criminal prosecution as a tool for political vengeance and has systematically worked to undermine the judicial system’s independence and impartiality. The extradition of Mr. Assange would be the beginning of the end of journalistic investigations into power and veiled tyranny. If Mr. Assange is extradited, prosecuted and convicted, the publication of classified documents will, for the first time, become a crime in the United States. We must not allow criminal prosecution to be used as a tool to undermine freedom of the press."

Richard J. WhitneyAttorney at Law, Illinois Office of the State Appellate Defender (U.S.) *

"In addition to the reasons set forth in the letter, the inhumane and patently unjust punishment of Julian Assange makes a mockery of any claim that the United Kingdom has to be a free, democratic country guided by the rule of law. The governments of the U.K. and its overbearing imperialistic partner, the United States, are the true criminal actors involved in this matter. Not only jurists but any persons who value freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the press have a duty to demand Julian Assange’s immediate release from incarceration and cessation of the ill-conceived campaign to prosecute and persecute him."

Fabiano CangelosiBarrister Salamanca Chambers Hobart Tasmania Tasmanian President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance

Colin HutchinsonBarrister, Garden Court Chambers (UK)

Ögmundur JónassonFormer Minister of Justice in Iceland

"The case against Julian Assange is a brutal attempt not only to silence him and Wikileaks but thereby also to silence a free critical press. It is thus an assault on democratic society. All those who want an open, free, critical, democratic society have an obligation to stand up for Julian Assange"

Olga Margrét CiliaLawyer and Deputy MP, The Pirate Party of Iceland 

"Everyone has the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence"

Ahmed AydeedDirector, Duncan Lewis Solicitors 

Nick BrownBarrister, Doughty Street Chambers

"He should not be extradited. He should not be locked up for the rest of his life for doing his job as a journalist, for putting information which it is plainly in the public interest to know in the public domain. He should not be locked up at all."

Fredrik HeffermehlLawyer and author, (affiliations: Nobel Peace Prize Watch, IALANA)

"The Assange case represents an alarming erosion of basic protections of political and human rights. Division of powers is vital, the executive branch shall not be able to use law enforcing bodies to harass, eradicate or take revenge against political opponents. In the Assange case Swedish and British and US American legal officers have conspired in a massive, severe, many-facetted violation of personal and political rights. The whole U.S. Congress, as well as President Trump and former Vice President Biden, apparently see undercutting the integrity of foreign legal systems as an entirely natural activity. This should alarm governments and judicial authorities all over the world, as well as international associations of lawyers to recommit to the rule of law. Assange must not be extradited to the USA."

Leonard HartnettBarrister Gorman Chambers Melbourne 

David LewisProfessor of Employment Law, Middlesex University

Professor Eirik BjorgeUniversity of Bristol Law School, Visiting Professor la Sapienza University Rome 

Ms. Elísabet GuðbjörnsdóttirAttorney at Law at Consilia ehf. Iceland

Toufique HossainDirector of Public Law, Duncan Lewis Solicitors

"The illegal treatment of Julian Assange sets a dangerous precedent for suppressing and intimidating those making public disclosure of improper conduct by governments."

Michael TuckBarrister, New Zealand

Marit HalvorsenProfessor of jurisprudence, Department of Public and International Law, University of Oslo

Le Club est l'espace de libre expression des abonnés de Mediapart. Ses contenus n'engagent pas la rédaction.