UN expert: Assange not guaranteed fair trial in US; torture, death penalty possible

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is being dragged out of the Ecuador embassy in London by British police on April 11, 2019.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is not guaranteed a fair trial in the United States, where he is likely to face torture and ultimately receive a death penalty, a UN torture expert has warned.

Nils Melzer, a UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, warned that the charge sheet against Assange could be expanded if London sends him back to the US and that the death penalty was “obviously a very serious concern.”

British police arrested Assange on Thursday, after entering Ecuador’s embassy in London on an invitation from the Ecuadorian ambassador.

Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador’s former president Rafael Correa, after he took refuge in the country’s embassy in 2012 in order to avoid extradition to Sweden. 

The 47-year-old Australian computer programmer later stayed in the embassy out of concern that he would be extradited to the US to be prosecuted for publishing classified documents that were leaked by American whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

He is accused in the US of what prosecutors refer to as conspiring with Manning to commit "one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”

The Justice Department said Thursday that Assange was arrested under an extradition treaty between the United States and Britain.

According to the indictment, Assange is accused of helping Manning in March 2010 to crack a password on Pentagon computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a US government network for classified documents and communications.

“I’m worried about fair trial,” said Melzer. “I’m worried that he might be exposed to [the] detention practices of the US, which in part are very problematic.”

“The US, in the last decade, unfortunately has not proven to be a safe state with regard to the provision of torture in cases that involve national security,” said the torture expert.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures as he leaves the Westminster Magistrates Court in the police van in London, Britain April 11, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

A British court is set to hear a US extradition request on May 2.

Assange's lawyer Baltasar Garzon has echoed similar concerns, warning on Thursday that the journalist may risk torture if he is extradited to the United States.

He said that arguments given for revoking Assange’s seven-year stay under asylum in the embassy were false, and that an extradition process would now start.

The arrest came a day after the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, told reporters in London that they had uncovered an extensive spying operation against the journalist at the embassy.

Hrafnsson said Ecuador had made surreptitious video and audio recordings of Assange and his interactions at the embassy.

Less than 24 hours after the press conference, Ecuadorian authorities revoked Assange’s citizenship and rescinded his asylum.

The Australian journalist had long been engaged in a dispute with Ecuadorian authorities over what he called strict new house rules for living at the embassy.

He had been pursuing a legal action against Ecuador’s foreign minister for “isolating and muzzling” him with new rules, requiring him to avoid making online political comments.

“He has been held in inhuman conditions for more than six years,” said attorney Garzon back in October.

An Ecuadorian judge, however, rejected the assertions.

Wikileaks also said at the time that Ecuador had threatened to remove the protection Assange was given upon receiving political asylum.

Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno, who had the final say in revoking Assange's asylum, accused WikiLeaks of spreading leaked documents that bring corruption charges against the president and his family.

The documents allege that Moreno and his family had corruptly benefited from offshore companies when he was a United Nations special envoy on disability in Europe. Moreno denies any wrongdoing.

WikiLeaks also denied any involvement in the release of the documents, otherwise known as the INA Papers.

Correa, Moreno's predecessor has condemned the decision, describing it as "the biggest betrayal perhaps in Latin American history."

Extradite Assange to Sweden: British MPs

UK lawmakers are cranking up pressure on Home Secretary Sajid Javid to prioritize action that would allow Assange to be extradited to Sweden, where he would be facing rape and sexual assault allegations.

More than 70 parliamentarians signed the letter to Javid, which was also shared on social media.

“We are writing to request that you do everything you can to champion action that will ensure Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden in the event Sweden makes an extradition request." read the letter.

Swedish prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant against Assange in 2012, over allegations of rape and sexual assault filed by two women in Sweden in 2010.

Prosecutors dropped the rape investigation in 2017 because they were unable to proceed due to his continued confinement in the embassy.

The statute of limitations on one of the allegations has expired, but the other will not be reached until August 2020. Sweden will now re-examine the case against Assange to decide whether to resume it August 2020.

Assange's dramatic arrest has sparked concern among journalists and free speech advocates, who have described it as "a serious threat to press freedom."

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