London: The United States government has promised that Julian Assange will get a fair trial on espionage charges, rejecting the accusation of a United Nations expert that the administration “intends to make an example of him” with excessive charges and jail time.
It has challenged the assessment of the expert, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, that Assange would “be exposed to a real risk of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” if he ended up in a US jail.
But Melzer has warned that extradition to the US would severely and dangerously worsen Assange’s already fragile psychological state.
The WikiLeaks founder is in a London jail awaiting a legal fight against extradition to the US, where he has been charged with conspiracy to receive and disclose top secret documents allegedly obtained from army whistleblower Chelsea Manning in 2010.
Assange’s team are expected to argue he will not receive a fair trial if the extradition takes place, and that extradition would be dangerous to his health – arguments bolstered by the damning independent report from Melzer.
In May, after visiting Assange in Belmarsh Prison for an interview and psychological examination, Melzer concluded that the US, Britain, Sweden and Ecuador shared responsibility for the “psychological torture” of Assange.
On Sunday new details emerged of Melzer’s conclusions, after the publication of letters that Melzer sent to the respective governments of those countries.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner also published two responses received from the US and Sweden which strongly rejected Melzer’s claims and arguments.
In his letters, Melzer gave new details of Assange’s prison regimen.
At the time of his visit Assange was shut in his cell for about 20 hours a day, eating all his meals in the 2 metre by 3 metre space with “a bed, a cupboard, a note-board, basic sanitary installations, a plastic chair and a medium sized window”.
Melzer called for Assange to be given access to the prison library and gym, and expressed concern that his situation “severely hampers his ability to adequately prepare” for his legal fight.
Melzer said Assange’s “cognitive and sensory capacity have been, and still are significantly impaired” after his six-year confinement at Ecuador’s London embassy.
Assange showed symptoms of sustained exposure to “severe psychological stress, anxiety and related mental and emotional suffering” which could cause “major depressive and post-traumatic stress disorders,” Melzer said.
If he was extradited to the US “his current condition is likely to deteriorate dramatically, with severe and long-term psychological and social sequels”.
Melzer said he was gravely concerned that US authorities intend to “make an example” of Assange, to punish him personally and to deter others.
He feared that “Mr. Assange will be confronted with overly expansive charges and subjected to excessively severe criminal sanctions”.
Melzer said Assange’s mental state was caused by his treatment by Britain, Sweden, the US and Ecuador.
He accused Sweden’s and Britain’s prosecuting authorities of deliberately “creating and maintaining” the legal stalemate that stopped Assange facing rape and sexual assault allegations in Sweden.
Sweden, he said, used a “rape suspect narrative” to “deliberately undermine his reputation and credibility”. Ecuador had harassed him with “excessive regulation restriction and surveillance” while in the embassy.
And in all four countries the media, political figures and senior officials, including magistrates, had subjected Assange to “unrestrained public mobbing, intimidation and defamation”, Melzer said.
This caused Assange “chronic anxiety, stress and depression, and an intense sense of humiliation, isolation, vulnerability and powerlessness … the cumulative effects of which clearly amount to psychological torture”.
He called on Britain not to extradite Assange, and the US to ensure a fair trial and fair treatment in prison.
No response from Britain was published by the UN on Sunday.
Sweden, in a reply dated July 12, said the action of prosecutors against Assange had been independent from government and their proportionality had been tested and confirmed by the Swedish Supreme Court.
It said it “strongly refutes” Melzer’s implication that prosecutors were doing anything other than investigating allegations of rape and sexual assault made against Assange.
The US government denied any torture of Assange, saying the allegation appeared to rest on public statements by the media and political and government officials, and those types of statements did not amount to punishment, let alone torture.
It said it was “deeply concerned” by Melzer’s claims, which had “dangerous implications for freedom of expression, democracy, and the rule of law”.
It also categorically rejected the claim the US would torture or mistreat Assange if he was extradited.
“The United States takes its obligations under international human rights law very seriously,” its letter said. “Individuals extradited to the United States are afforded due process under U.S. law and fair trial guarantees.”