Seong-Phil Hong, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, reiterated calls for the UK to abide by international law and allow Assange to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy without any precondition.
"It is time that Mr Assange, who has already paid a high price for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of opinion, expression and information, and to promote the right to truth in the public interest, recovers his freedom," the UN experts demanded in a statement on Friday.
The experts argued that "pre-trial detention must be only imposed in limited instances," adding that the charges Assange faces in the UK for skipping his bail while applying for asylum cannot justify his six years within the embassy's walls.
Assange became holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 after being granted asylum by then-Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. Assange, who was in the UK at the time, was unable to go to the airport for fear of being arrested and handed over to the US, where he is wanted for exposing diplomatic and military secrets, and has had to stay in the embassy since.
Back in February 2016, the UN working panel found that Assange, who then still faced extradition to Sweden over a rape investigation, was "arbitrarily detained" and must be set free. London called the demand "ridiculous." Sweden dropped its case against Assange more than a year ago.
Last appeal over restrictive rules lost
Despite the UN experts' support, Assange suffered a setback with the Ecuadorian justice system. On Friday, Pichincha Provincial Court reaffirmed a decision by a lower court to throw out his appeal against a new set of house rules. The rules laid out in a special protocol in October restricted Assange's visitation rights, made him refrain from political statements, pay his own medical bills, and take better care of his cat. Shortly after the regulation was imposed, Assange gave the cat away, with reports circulating that he has become virtually isolated in the embassy after all the staff he had personally known left.
Speaking before the court via a video-link last week, Assange warned that the new rules would "inevitably lead to a health crisis for me, resulting in my death or hospitalization or a political excuse to illegally hand me over to the British, and therefore to the United States, where I face a potential life sentence."
In late October, a judge rejected his request to change the protocol, arguing that the government has the right to impose any rules it wants inside the premises.
Assange's lawyer Carlos Poveda admitted that the whistleblower is stuck with the rules since all legal options to revise them have been "exhausted.", adding that the legal team would consider bringing a case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
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OFFICIAL OHCHR STATEMENT :
UN experts urge UK to honour rights obligations and let Mr. Julian Assange leave Ecuador embassy in London freely
GENEVA (21 December 2018) – UN human rights experts today repeated a demand that the UK abides by its international obligations and immediately allows Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to walk free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been for over 6 years, fearing arrest by British authorities if he leaves, and extradition to the US.
“States that are based upon and promote the rule of law do not like to be confronted with their own violations of the law, that is understandable. But when they honestly admit these violations, they do honour the very spirit of the rule of law, earn enhanced respect for doing so, and set worldwide commendable examples,” the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) said.
In December 2015, the Working Group concluded in its opinion No. 54/2015 that Mr. Assange – who at the time had a European arrest warrant issued against him for an allegation of crimes committed in Sweden [Editorial Note: The women used to try and ensnare Mr. Assange, Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen have still not been prosecuted for their false accusations.] ‑ was being arbitrarily deprived of his freedom and demanded that he be released.
“Under international law, pre-trial detention must be only imposed in limited instances. Detention during investigations must be even more limited, especially in the absence of any charge” said the experts. “The Swedish investigations have been closed for over 18 months now, and the only ground remaining for Mr. Assange’s continued deprivation of liberty is a bail violation in the UK, which is, objectively, a minor offense that cannot post facto justify the more than 6 years confinement that he has been subjected to since he sought asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador. Mr. Assange should be able to exercise his right to freedom of movement in an unhindered manner, in accordance with the human rights conventions the UK has ratified,” the experts further said
The WGAD is further concerned that the modalities of the continued arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Mr. Assange is undermining his health, and may possible endanger his life given the disproportionate amount of anxiety and stress that such prolonged deprivation of liberty entails.
“The United Kingdom has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and has a responsibility to honour its commitment, by respecting its provisions in all cases,” the experts said.
“As the High Commissioner for human rights said several years ago, human rights treaty law is binding law, it is not discretionary law. It is not some passing fancy that a state can apply sometimes and not in the other,” the experts recalled.
“In addition, the recommendations of the WGAD Opinions are expected to be implemented by all States, including those which have not been a party in the case concerning Mr. Assange,” said the experts.
“On 10 December, the world celebrated International Human Rights Day. Seventy years ago, on that very day, the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the mother of all rights contained in subsequent conventions, including the ICCPR.
“It is time that Mr. Assange, who has already paid a high price for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of opinion, expression and information, and to promote the right to truth in the public interest, recovers his freedom,” the experts concluded.
Background: Mr. Assange, a computer programmer and freedom of expression and information advocate, is the founder of Wikileaks, created to enable whistle-blowers to make public information they deem should be known in the public interest.
Mr. Assange was arrested on 7 December 2010 in the United Kingdom, pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant issued against him after he was accused of sexual misconduct in Sweden. That accusation has not been substantiated and after he was interrogated in London the Swedish Prosecutor decided in 2017 not to pursue the investigation.
Mr. Assange has been de facto arbitrarily deprived of his liberty since 2012 without charge or trial. He was first detained on remand and in isolation for 10 days in a prison in London; he then spent 550 days on bail terms constituting house arrest, pending his appeal before the UK’s Supreme Court against his extradition to Sweden. When the Supreme Court upheld the extradition decision, he sought political asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador on 16 August 2012, citing fears of being extradited from Sweden to the USA. He claimed that he had reasonable grounds to believe that should he be extradited to the USA, he would face trial for having published, through Wikileaks, thousands of US classified diplomatic cables and documents. Ecuador granted him political asylum and later Ecuadorian citizenship.
The United Kingdom has indicated that Mr. Assange’s fear to be extradited to the USA was unfounded. In April 2017, in his first public speech since becoming head of the CIA, Mr. Michael Pompeo described Wikileaks as a “hostile intelligence service” which claimed to act in the name of the defence of freedom of expression, freedom of information and privacy. The same month, the US Attorney General stated that it was a US priority to arrest and detain Julian Assange. On 15 November 2018, evidence emerged that the US Department of Justice was preparing an indictment against him but the charges have remained classified.
As a result of the Swedish Prosecutor’s decision not to pursue the investigation against Mr. Assange, the European Arrest Warrant against him was nullified. The remaining ground for arresting him is his violation of the terms of the bail in 2012, when he walked to the embassy of Ecuador to seek political asylum. The terms of bail included reporting daily to the local police station.
The UK authorities have made it clear that should he leave the Ecuadorian Embassy he would be arrested. An arrest warrant has been issued against Mr. Assange by a British court, and police have been assigned since 2012 to stand-by 24/7 at the embassy gate to arrest Mr. Assange should he exit the diplomatic premises.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.
Julian Assange's father wants to see the WikiLeaks founder in normal circumstances, six years after he first took asylum in London's Ecuadorian embassy.