Eminent jurists write to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for Julian Assange’s immediate release.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 22 February 2020

With Julian Assange’s extradition hearing set to begin on Monday, February 24th more than 40 international jurists have written to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The jurists’ letter asks for the rule of law to be upheld and details several issues with the way the case has been conducted to date. These include the difficulties that Assange has encountered communicating with his legal counsel from Belmarsh Prison and the systematic compromise of his legally privileged meetings while he was living in the Ecuaorian Embassy in London.

Icelandic lawyer Olga Margrét Cilia notes that “Everyone has the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.”

The signatories highlight what they see as the disregard shown by the British authorities towards their duties and responsibilities under British and international law. Their letter calls on the UK authorities to deny the US extradition request and urges the UK government to immediately release Mr Assange.

Hong Kong barrister Robert Tibbo points out that “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 US, UK and other nations must be held to account for their unlawful treatment of him, but also for the unlawful acts they have committed as exposed by Mr Assange in publishing evidence provided by whistleblowers.”

The jurists express alarm at the sweeping, extra-territorial claims being made by the prosecution of a non-US citizen for conduct outside the United States. Australian barrister Greg Barns says that “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.”

Prof. Heather Ellis Cucolo, of the New York Law School, adds that “Mr. Assange would no doubt face a politicized show trial in the United States”.

The signatories 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.

Media queries should be directed to Deepa Govindarajan Driver on + 44 7979 917 197 or deepadriver@protonmail.com

Bridges for Media Freedom

Editors’ notes

Mr Assange’s persecution comes after a decade of smearing and intentionally-prolonged preliminary investigations in Sweden, for which charges have never been raised. Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests have since revealed the extent of pressure put on Swedish authorities by the UK Crown Prosecution Service, to keep these preliminary investigations artificially open for many years to ensure Mr Assange remained isolated in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. FoIA requests have also revealed the intentional destruction of evidentiary trails by the CPS.

Prominent UK politicians have engaged in negotiations with the Ecuadorean government to extract Mr Assange from asylum, and have even claimed credit for Mr Assange being deprived of his Ecuadorean citizenship without due process. Since Mr Assange was dragged out of asylum, he has been imprisoned by the UK authorities in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison, in harsh conditions and until recently in isolation, on the flimsy grounds of a purported bail violation arising from seeking asylum. An extradition request has also since been filed with the UK by the United States authorities, and Mr Assange faces charges including under the Espionage Act, and so he continues to be jailed pending extradition to face a potential jail term of 175 years and a trial without First Amendment protections. The Swedish investigations meanwhile have been closed without a charge being raised after a decade of “investigation”.

Serious and multiple conflicts of interest have also come to light in respect of the senior British judge who was involved with Mr Assange’s previous case and to date, there is no record of investigations into these conflicts of interest.

Civil society groups have spoken out against the persecution of Mr Assange by the U.K. authorities. Over 100 international doctors have also publicly condemned Mr Assange’s mistreatment. Women Against Rape (UK), which has supported women fighting for justice for over 40 years say: “We are alarmed at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange has been pursued. Do the victims of murder, rape and torture by US-UK occupiers in Iraq and Afghanistan not count? How can we find out about state crimes if journalists like Assange and whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning are silenced?”.

The case holds particularly worrying omens for the profession of investigative journalism. National Union of Journalists (NUJ) executive member Tim Dawson who spoke at a recent public meeting in London on 4 Feb said: “The legal devices being deployed to try and take Julian Assange to the US are unprecedented and terrifying for anyone whose journalism touches on state security, defence or espionage. If Assange is sent from here to start a prison sentence that could be as long as 175 years, then no journalist is safe.”

View Jurists’ letter

Jurists letter to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson

Rt. Hon. Boris Johnson MP
10, Downing Street
City of Westminster
London, SW1A 2AA

                                                                                                                                         22 February 2020

Dear Mr Johnson,

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:

a. 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 described the 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.

b. Denial of Medical Treatment whilst in the embassy:

Mr. 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.

c. 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.

2.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.

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

a. 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.a.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”.

b. 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.

c. Political interference: Senior UK governmental ministers have boasted about using their diplomatic skills and clout to broker a deal with Ecuador’s new government to rescind Mr. Assange’s asylum so that he could be taken into custody.

d. 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.

e. 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.

f. 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.Insteadtheir 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.

4. 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 journalism as 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-winning journalist 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. Assangefaces 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.

Signed by:

Alberto Alemanno, Professeur de Droit, HEC et NYU, France
Ahmed Aydeed, Director of Public Law, Duncan Lewis Solicitors, UK
Greg Barns, Barrister & former National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Australia
Professor Eirik Bjorge, University of Bristol Law School, UK
Heidi Boghosian, Esq., Executive Director, A.J. Muste Institute, Inc., USA
William Bourdon, Avocat au Barreau de Paris, France
Vincent Brengarth, Avocat au Barreau de Paris, France
Nick Brown, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers, UK
Julian Burnside AO, QC, Australia
Heather Ellis Cucolo, Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law, New York Law School, USA
Marie-Anne Cohendet, Professeure de Droit Public, L’Ecole de Droit de la Sorbonne, France
Marjorie Cohn, Professor Emerita, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, USA
Fabiano Cangelosi, Barrister, Tasmanian President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Australia
Olga Margrét Cilia, Lawyer and Deputy MP, The Pirate Party of Iceland 
Dominique Custos, Professeure Droits Fondamentaux, l’Université de Caen, France
Marie-Joëlle Fichrot-Redor, Prof. honoraire, Droits Fondamentaux, Université de Caen, France
Géraldine Giraudeau, Agrégée des facultés de droit, Professeure de droit public à l’UPVD, France
Ms. Elísabet Guðbjörnsdóttir, Attorney at Law at Consilia ehf., Iceland
Marit Halvorsen, Professor of Jurisprudence, University of Oslo, Norway
Dr Thomas Harrè, Barrister, New Zealand
Leonard Hartnett, Barrister, Gorman Chambers, Australia
Charles Hector Fernandez, Advocate and Solicitor, Messrs Charles Hector, Malaysia 
Fredrik Heffermehl, Lawyer and author (Nobel Peace Prize Watch, IALANA), Norway
Arlette Heymann-Doat, Prof. émérite de Droit Public, Spécialiste des libertés fondamentales, France
Nancy Hollander, Lawyer, USA
Toufique Hossain, Director of Public Law, Duncan Lewis Solicitors, UK
Colin Hutchinson, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers, UK
Eva Joly, Lawyer, Paris Bar & former judge, Paris Court, France
Ögmundur Jónasson, Former Minister of Justice, Iceland
Mamadou Konate, Avocat au Barreau de Bamako et Paris, Ancien Garde des Sceaux, France
James Lafferty, Executive Director Emeritus, National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles, USA
David Lewis, Professor of Employment Law, Middlesex University, UK
Lisa Longstaff, Women Against Rape, UK
Nina Lopez, Legal Action for Women, UK
Carl J Mayer, Esq., Lawyer and consumer advocate, Mayer Law Group Llc, USA
Thomas Perroud, Professeur de Droit Public, Université Panthéon-Assas, France
Diane Roman, Professeure à l’école de Droit de la Sorbonne, Université de Paris 1, Spécialiste de libertés fondamentales, France
Catherine Teitgen-Colly, Professeure émérite de l’Université de Paris 1, Droit public, Panthéon-Sorbonne, France
Philippe Texier, Magistrat, Ancien Conseiller à la Cour de Cassation, France
Robert Tibbo, Barrister, Eastern Chambers, Hong Kong
Craig Tuck, Human rights Lawyer, Director of LawAid International, New Zealand 
Michael Tuck, Barrister, New Zealand
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Esq., Human rights Lawyer; President of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, USA
Richard J. Whitney, Attorney, USA

cc:

Jeremy Corbyn, MP
Priti Patel, MP
Dianne Abbott, MP
Suella Braverman, MP
Shami Chakrabarti
Robert Buckland QC, MP
Richard Burgon, MP

Keir Starmer’s record on rape

Featured

Camden New Journal  Letters  6 February 2020

The record on rape

We take issue with the letter from MARTIN PLAUT of NW5 (‘Errors in attacks on Starmer’, January 30).  

He claims that rape “is one of the issues [Sir Keir] feels most strongly about and has worked on most assiduously. His determination has been applauded by the victims of these crimes. When he left office as DPP in 2013 prosecutions for these appalling offences were at their highest.” 

Sir Keir has been applauded by some, but others, including ourselves who work with many victims, have criticised his refusal to end the Crown Prosecution Service policy of prosecuting rape survivors who are disbelieved by the police.

[Cut from the letter we submitted: Such cases are similar to the shocking prosecution of a young woman in Cyprus who reported rape by a group of Israeli men but was forced to retract and was herself jailed.]

We have worked with a number of women the British police bullied to retract: some did, others refused but all were treated as criminals.

One woman raped at age 15 was charged with lying when police claimed to have found no sperm on her T-shirt where her rapist had ejaculated. We helped get a second investigation by another police force who found the sperm and the man was finally prosecuted. She was saved from prison and later sued the police for £20,000.

Many are not so fortunate and face long sentences – often longer than convicted rapists; one woman is in prison for 10 years. Another woman, attacked by strangers on her way home, was given a three year sentence while evidence of the assault was lost or not pursued; her brother had complained of police racism – did that play a part?

We raised such cases at a meeting with Sir Keir Starmer when he was Director of Public Prosecutions (2008-2013), demonstrating how the prosecution of disbelieved victims skews police investigations and undermines women’s ability to report rape.

To no avail – the policy remains.

That police and CPS have got worse since Sir Keir left is not evidence that he was good.

Their decision that victims must hand over mobile phones and social media history, medical and counselling records, which are disclosed to their attacker, has of course led to a further drop in rape prosecutions.

In most British cases it is not the rapists who are on trial but their victims.

Add to this austerity which has made women and children more vulnerable to violence, and has cut escape routes – refuges, benefits, etc.

When under 3 per cent of reported rapes lead to a conviction, rapists have almost complete impunity. Sir Keir didn’t feel strongly enough against rape to confront police sexism, racism and other prejudices, and press for better investigations when he had the power to do so.

LISA LONGSTAFF

Women Against Rape