The Trial of Julian Assange: A Story of Persecution

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Demonstrators outside Australia House on January 5th – the 1000th day of Assange’s imprisonment in Belmarsh jail

UNITED NATIONS special rapporteur on torture, Professor Nils Melzer, held a Question and Answer session with the Foreign Press Association (FPA) last Friday, discussing his book, The Trial of Julian Assange: A Story of Persecution.

Melzer’s answers provided a devastating indictment not only of the treatment of Assange, but of contemporary capitalist society and its claim to democratic rule based on ‘checks and balances’.

His efforts to secure humane and legal treatment for the WikiLeaks founder have been met with a ‘wall of silence. This was the untouchable case.’

The special rapporteur has spoken powerfully in defence of Assange since 2019.

He recalled in his introduction to the FPA briefing his initial reluctance to intervene in the WikiLeaks founder’s defence.

‘Years of exposure to scandalous headlines and biased reporting,’ Melzer writes in his book, had made him dismiss a request for help from Assange’s lawyers in December 2018.

After re-examining the case in March 2019 in light of the findings of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the case history of a now totally discredited Swedish sexual assault investigation, and the medical opinions of Doctor Sondra Crosby, who found evidence for a violation of the Convention Against Torture, he decided to conduct his own investigations.

What Melzer found ‘really shocked me,’ he told the FPA conference.

Assange ‘had been subjected to inhumane treatment’ and found ‘massive due process violations’ and facts ‘distorted deliberately’ by the British and Swedish states and media.

‘The deeper I got into this case, the more dirt came to the surface.

‘But it was not on the side of Assange, it was on the side of governments.’

Having drawn these conclusions, Melzer ‘confronted’ the governments responsible, but ‘all four involved states (the US, UK, Sweden and Ecuador, who granted then revoked Assange’s asylum) refused to engage in a constructive dialogue.’

He found they were engaged in ‘a concerted effort, trying to set an example of Julian Assange to deter other journalists.’

Melzer’s book, ‘not really part of the job description’ for a special rapporteur, is his response to his inability since then to secure redress for the wrongs done to Assange ‘through the diplomatic channels at my disposal, or by alerting the General Assembly (of the UN) or the Human Rights Council in Geneva.’

The UK government’s refusal to respond to Melzer’s concerns beyond a single, dismissive letter he described last Friday as ‘profoundly shocking’ and added that he has not been granted a single meeting at the ministerial level.

In July 2010, WikiLeaks published Cablegate, one of the biggest leaks in the history of the US military, including evidence for war crimes and torture.

In the aftermath, Julian Assange, the founder and spokesman of WikiLeaks, found himself at the centre of a media storm, accused of hacking and later sexual assault.

He spent the next seven years in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, fearful that he would be extradited to Sweden to face the accusations of assault and then sent to US.

In 2019, Assange was handed over to the British police and, on the same day, the US demanded his extradition.

They threatened him with up to 175 years in prison for alleged espionage and computer fraud.

At this point, Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, started his investigation into how the US and UK governments were working together to ensure a conviction.

His findings are explosive, revealing that Assange has faced grave and systematic due process violations, judicial bias, collusion and manipulated evidence.

He has been the victim of constant surveillance, defamation and threats.

Melzer also gathered together consolidated medical evidence that proves that Assange has suffered prolonged psychological torture.

Melzer’s compelling investigation puts the UK and US state into the dock, showing how, through secrecy, impunity and, crucially, public indifference, unchecked power reveals a deeply undemocratic system.

Furthermore, the Assange case sets a dangerous precedent: once telling the truth becomes a crime, censorship and tyranny will inevitably follow.

The Trial of Julian Assange is told in three parts: the first explores Nils Melzer’s own story about how he became involved in the case and why Assange’s case falls under his mandate as the Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The second section returns to 2010 when WikiLeaks released the largest leak in the history of the United States military, exposing war crimes and corruption, and Melzer makes the case that Swedish authorities manipulated charges against Assange to force his extradition to the US and publicly discredit him.

In the third section, the author returns to 2019 and picks up the case as Ecuador kicks Assange out of the embassy and lays out the case as it currently stands, as well as the stakes involved for other potential whistleblowers trying to serve the public interest.

There has been widespread praise for the book:

‘This is a landmark book, the first by a senior international official to call out the criminality of Western governments, and their craven media echoes, in the persecution of Julian Assange. Mark the word, persecution, says Nils Melzer, as well as “our” responsibility for the ravages inflicted on an heroic man for telling forbidden truths and on democracy itself.’ – John Pilger.

‘This extraordinary and very disturbing book details how four national governments (and a lot of journalists) conspired to put Julian Assange away – at whatever cost to justice it might entail. Nils Melzer surgically takes apart the so-called evidence in the case against Assange, shows how legal process was consistently used to incriminate him and yet always denied when it might have led to his acquittal.

‘This international vendetta continues to this day, and Assange – still untried for any crime whatsoever – remains a prisoner in Belmarsh.

‘This is surely one of the most flagrant and shameful miscarriages of justice of our times.’ – Brian Eno.

‘This is a harrowing account of a corruption of justice that crosses not only borders, but the United Nations itself.

‘Melzer’s work is an urgent corrective to a false history – and an act of public service.’ – Edward Snowden.

‘Politically motivated and unjustified, the prosecution of Julian Assange by a mature democracy threatens and undermines press freedom, the rule of law, and the prohibition of torture.

‘By painstakingly and rigorously documenting the facts, Nilz Melzer reveals the full disturbing account of how the human rights of Julian Assange have been violated over years.

‘It’s a story that must be told and from which we all must learn.’ – Agnes Callamard, Secretary-General, Amnesty International, former UN Rapporteur on Torture.

‘A stunning account on how official secrecy, corruption and impunity suffocate the truth and poison the rule of law.

‘The present-day prosecution of Julian Assange aims to complete what Richard Nixon tried and failed to do in the Pentagon Papers case fifty years ago: rescind the foundation of our republic, the First Amendment protection of freedom of the press.

‘As Melzer argues compellingly, nothing less than our continued status as a democracy is at stake in the need to block Assange’s extradition, drop the unconstitutional charges against him, or if necessary, win his acquittal.

‘It is the legal scandal of the century.’ – Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower, the Pentagon Papers.