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.
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Bridges for Media Freedom
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