After visiting Julian Assange in the London prison where he is serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail, a United Nations expert warned Friday that the WikiLeaks founder is showing "all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture" and demanded an end to U.S. extradition attempts.
In a statement, Nils Meltzer—the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture—issued a scathing rebuke of the U.S., the United Kingdom, Ecuador, and Sweden for their treatment of Assange, who was reportedly too ill to appear via video at a scheduled extradition hearing on Thursday.
"In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence, and political persecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize, and abuse a single individual for such a long time."
—Nils Meltzer, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture
Meltzer, who was accompanied on his visit by two medical experts, said Assange was experiencing "physical ailments" as well as "extreme stress, chronic anxiety, and intense psychological trauma" in part due to the Trump administration's efforts to extradite and prosecute him for exposing U.S. war crimes and other state secrets.
"In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence, and political persecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize, and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law," said Meltzer. "The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!"
If Assange is extradited to the U.S., Meltzer warned, he "would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial, and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment."
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"I am particularly alarmed at the recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice of 17 new charges against Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act, which currently carry up to 175 years in prison," said Meltzer. "This may well result in a life sentence without parole, or possibly even the death penalty, if further charges were to be added in the future."
Echoing the concerns of press freedom advocates, Meltzer said the prosecution of Assange may amount to "the criminalization of investigative journalism in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law."
"Since 2010, when WikiLeaks started publishing evidence of war crimes and torture committed by U.S. forces, we have seen a sustained and concerted effort by several states towards getting Mr. Assange extradited to the United States for prosecution," Meltzer said. "Since then, there has been a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation, and defamation against Mr. Assange."
"I condemn, in the strongest terms, the deliberate, concerted, and sustained nature of the abuse inflicted on Mr. Assange," Meltzer added, "and seriously deplore the consistent failure of all involved governments to take measures for the protection of his most fundamental human rights and dignity."