The psychological torture of Julian Assange and associated criminalization of investigative journalism. Nobody seems to care.

Political dissidents in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey risk life-long sentences (or worse). In the Western free press, they are striving for their release, and rightly so. Freedom of expression is, after all, an immutable principle, whoever the perpetrators may be. It appears so, until you take a closer look at the treatment of Julian Assange by Great Britain and Chelsea Manning by the US and the non-existent reporting about it.

Since Julian Assange was arrested by the British police at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on April 11, 2019, with permission from the Ecuadorian government, he has been detained in Belmarsh Prison.

Belmarsh, the British "Guantánamo"

Belmarsh is a Category A maximum-security prison for male criminals. In addition to convicts of serious crimes, male suspects are detained in custody awaiting trial. In Belmarsh, there are only suspects who are considered to be a danger to society (such as murder, rape, kidnapping, arson) or are considered a serious risk of escape.

Belmarsh is the most notorious of all British Category A prisons. The institution has repeatedly been the subject of scandals for the mistreatment of political prisoners.

In the case of Julian Assange, the court ruled that there is a major risk of escape, even though the crime for which he was officially arrested on 11 April is only a minor crime. He had not respected the conditions of his provisional freedom (by applying for political asylum at the embassy of Ecuador). He did this to escape extradition to Sweden and from there to the US.

For that, he was given an immediate prison sentence of 52 weeks - the maximum sentence, of which at least half is effective.

On the basis of this verdict, he should have been in temporary freedom for several months now. Shortly after his arrest, however, the US embassy filed an official request for extradition to put him on trial for hacking confidential data and endangering US national security by publishing that data.

Source: twitter @doctors4assange

Since his arrest, Assange has been staying in an isolation cell for 9 months now, a treatment that is normally only imposed for bad behavior during imprisonment. With the exception of a few weeks at the start of his detention, he may not be in contact with the other prisoners.

In his case, the staff also ensures that he also has no visual contact with other prisoners. He stays 23 hours a day in a cell without daylight and can only receive family and lawyers for a few hours a month.

In the US, Assange is accused of 17 cases of espionage and 1 case of hacking in connection with the publication of thousands of classified files about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The data was reported to have been provided to him by Chelsea Manning, a former security information analyst in the US Army.

Psychological torture and criminalization of investigative journalism

Since 1 November 2016, Swiss professor of international law Nils Melzer has been serving as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

On 9 May 2019, a month after his arrest, he visited Julian Assange. In his report on that visit, Melzer describes the treatment of Assange by the British government as "psychological torture". The US accusations are qualified by him as "criminalization of investigative journalism".

In a November 2019 statement, Melzer has expressed alarm at the continued deterioration of Julian Assange’s health since his arrest and detention earlier this year, saying his life was now at risk:

He continues to be detained under oppressive conditions of isolation and surveillance, not justified by his detention status.

The Special Rapporteur strongly recommended that Mr. Assange’s extradition to the United States be barred, and that he be promptly released and allowed to recover his health and rebuild his personal and professional life. In addition, he complains that the judicial treatment of his case by the government in Great Britain, the US, Ecuador and Sweden does not meet the standards of "normal litigation" and that "serious violations of normal legal proceedings" are ongoing.

In the end it finally dawned on me that I had been blinded by propaganda, and that Assange had been systematically slandered to divert attention from the crimes he exposed. Once he had been dehumanized through isolation, ridicule and shame, just like the witches we used to burn at the stake, it was easy to deprive him of his most fundamental rights without provoking public outrage worldwide. And thus, a legal precedent is being set, through the backdoor of our own complacency, which in the future can and will be applied just as well to disclosures by The Guardian, the New York Times and ABC News.

Assange has hardly any access to his lawyers and has denounced this during the hearings in preparation for the trial (which starts on 23 February). Judge Vanessa Baraitser refuses to improve that situation. During those hearings, the judge also regularly demonstrated that she is not unbiased.

At the end of the last hearing on his case on Monday, January 13, 2020, the judge ruled that Assange's lawyers would be given only one hour to present their case, arguing that another 47 people are waiting in the cells of the courthouse for their hearing. Kind of makes you wonder if it's not organized that way on purpose...

BBC and The Guardian set the tone for the other media

The British broadcaster BBC and the newspaper The Guardian have been taking the lead for years in a mudslinging campaign against Assange, with the main argument that what Assange does has nothing to do with journalistic work.

It is repeated time and again that he is "suspected of rape" by the Swedish court. In reality, the Swedish extradition request did not contain any accusation or crime, just the demand to question him in a case of possible sexual misconduct.

Already 1100 investigative journalists in 91 countries signed (several times against their own employer) a call to defend Julian Assange.  #journalistsspeakupforassange. Photo: speak-up-for-assange.org

The biased reporting of the public broadcaster BBC is evident from, among other things, a live interview of 13 January 2020 in which the questioner constantly interrupts Joe Corré, a defender of Julian Assange.

The main reasoning of the BBC journalist is that Assange "attempted to evade the court" by fleeing to the embassy of Ecuador, with which she implicitly refutes that Assange was being allowed to seek political asylum for political reasons. The questioner also interrupts the important remark that Judge Baraitser should be removed from the case because of a serious conflict of interest and because of her biased attitude and decisions during the hearings.

Joe Corré on Julian Assange – BBC News Channel (13/01/2020)

Assange has always stated that he was willing to return to Sweden for questioning on condition that Sweden would accept an agreement that he would not be extradited to a third country. In matters of extradition, this is a normal procedure and a right that is regularly applied for and granted, also by Great Britain.

Many countries such as Great Britain do not extradite if the accused is liable to face the death penalty unless the country requesting the extradition provides a guarantee that the death penalty will not be executed. A few years ago, Belgium agreed to the extradition of a Belgian soldier who raped and killed a woman during his Florida vacation. The US and the state of Florida then promised that the death penalty would not be demanded. Such commitments are always meticulously respected, if only because they would jeopardize new extradition requests.

Fair trial in the US is impossible

US legislation for prosecuting terrorism and national security was severely tightened after the 9/11 attacks (in the Patriot Act). These new legal procedures are condemned by most countries as being contrary to the normal functioning of the rule of law in a democracy.

For example, Assange in the US will be tried completely behind closed doors. Moreover, the court has the right to admit anonymous witnesses and can use those testimonials without informing the counterparty of the content of their testimony. The court does not even have to communicate the existence of these testimonies and statements made under torture in other countries may also be used as evidence.

Espionage for US in embassy Ecuador

There are other elements that violate the right to defense, both now in the British courts and later in the US. The Spanish security company UC Global, which was responsible for the security of the embassy of Ecuador, has recorded Assange's entire stay, including all his conversations with lawyers. All images from the security cameras in and around the embassy were also sent to the CIA. David Morales, the company's major boss, regularly traveled to CIA headquarters in Virginia.

There is currently a trial in Spain about this espionage by a private company. Assange's lawyers argue that the outcome of this process must be waited to assess the legal validity of the evidence against Assange. Judge Baraitser refuses to do so.

Moreover, Ecuador allowed the American court to take all Assange's files he had collected during his stay there, including the texts of his preparation for the upcoming trials. It also contains the names of all the witnesses he would ask and what he would ask them, what the US allows to put pressure on these people already.

In the end, the treatment of Assange is a warning to every investigative journalist: "Get busy on the crimes of the enemy, stay away from ours, or else ..."

Notes: