Treatment of Assange putting his life ‘at risk’: UN expert

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is driven out of Southwark Crown Court in London, after having been sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions in 2012. (AFP)
Updated 01 November 2019

Treatment of Assange putting his life ‘at risk’: UN expert

  • Nils Melzer: ‘Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life’
  • Assange is facing an extradition request by the US over charges he violated the US Espionage Act by publishing a huge cache of military and diplomatic files in 2010

GENEVA: The treatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is facing the threat of extradition from Britain to the US on espionage charges, is putting his life “at risk,” an independent UN rights expert said Friday.
“Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life,” the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Nils Melzer, said in a statement.
Melzer, who visited the 48-year-old Australian whistleblower in a London prison on May 9, nearly a month after his arrest at Ecuador’s embassy where he had been holed up for seven years, has previously warned he was being subjected to drawn-out “psychological torture.”
A spokesperson told AFP that the independent expert, who does not speak on behalf of the United Nations, had not met Assange since then but had received “updates” about his condition.
Friday’s statement warned that Assange’s health had continued to deteriorate since his arrest, stressing that “his life was now at risk.”
In the statement, Melzer pointed out that in May he had demanded immediate measures to protect the WikiLeaks founder’s health and dignity.
“However, what we have seen from the UK Government is outright contempt for Mr. Assange’s rights and integrity,” he said.
“Despite the medical urgency of my appeal, and the seriousness of the alleged violations, the UK has not undertaken any measures of investigation, prevention and redress required under international law,” he charged.
Assange “continues to be detained under oppressive conditions of isolation and surveillance, not justified by his detention status,” he said.
His statement pointed out that Assange had completed his prison sentence for violating his British bail terms in 2012 and was now “being held exclusively in relation to the pending extradition request from the United States.”
Assange is facing the extradition request by the US over charges he violated the US Espionage Act by publishing a huge cache of military and diplomatic files in 2010.
“While the US Government prosecutes Mr. Assange for publishing information about serious human rights violations, including torture and murder, the officials responsible for these crimes continue to enjoy impunity,” Melzer said.
He also decried that “despite the complexity of the proceedings against him led by the world’s most powerful Government, Mr. Assange’s access to legal counsel and documents has been severely obstructed.”
This, he said, had effectively undermined “his most fundamental right to prepare his defense.”
In his appeal, Melzer urged London to bar Assange’s extradition to the US, and demanded that “he be promptly released and allowed to recover his health and rebuild his personal and professional life.”


Beating lockdown inertia: French city-dwellers keep fit on balconies

Updated 31 min 53 sec ago

Beating lockdown inertia: French city-dwellers keep fit on balconies

  • France has been under virtual lockdown since March 17
  • The outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in France and sickened 33,000 others, according to official numbers

NANTES, France: As dusk fell over Nantes in western France, dozens of residents of an apartment block came out onto their balconies for a half-hour fitness session to beat the inertia of life under lockdown while the coronavirus sweeps across the country.
Music pumped out as the group put itself through a routine of star jumps, squats and jogging on the spot. The workout caught on after Pierre Planchenaud began exercising alone. Before long, his neighbors wanted to join in.
“It meant everyone could relax after a day where you stay shut up indoors or in isolation,” said Planchenaud, who works in advertising. “It enables people to have a bit of freedom and take their minds off things.”
France has been under virtual lockdown since March 17 and on Friday Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the unprecedented peacetime restrictions on public life would remain in place until at least April 15. The outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in France and sickened 33,000 others, according to official numbers.
Public gatherings are banned, schools and universities are closed and all non-essential businesses have shut down, with people allowed out of their homes only to buy groceries, carry out essential work, exercise or seek medical care.
Stress caused by fear of the disease is compounded by isolation, mental health experts say, and the French government has reported a marked increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.
“We started last night and we’re having a great time with the family. It’s cool,” said firefighter resident Guillaume Ricquier.
Planchenaud leads the workout from a central courtyard, with the makeshift class wrapping up just in time to join others nationwide clapping and cheering in support of the health care workers battling to save the lives of coronavirus sufferers.
“It brings a new energy,” said osteopath Laura Martinez. “We said last night it needs to keep going after the lockdown.”