UNITED NATIONS, Dec 23 (APP): A top UN human rights expert Tuesday urged the departing United States President Donald Tump to pardon Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, while he awaits a decision on his extradition to the US.
Nils Melzer, who monitors torture and other forms of inhuman treatment around the world, issued an open letter to Trump ahead of a British court ruling on January 4 that will determine whether Assange will be extradited from Britain to the United States.
Australian national Assange is being held in the Belmarsh high security prison in London.
He could face up to 175 years in prison in the US, on charges of publishing classified material on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which exposed war crimes by US soldiers.
“In pardoning Mr Assange, Mr President, you would send a clear message of justice, truth and humanity to the American people and to the world,” Melzer wrote.
“You would rehabilitate a courageous man who has suffered injustice, persecution and humiliation for more than a decade, simply for telling the truth.”
Assange’s health has seriously deteriorated behind bars in Britain “to the point where his life is now in danger”, Melzer, a high-profile Swiss human rights scholar and former Red Cross official, said.
“Mr. Assange has been arbitrarily deprived of his liberty for the past ten years”, Melzer said, adding, “This is a high price to pay for the courage to publish true information about government misconduct throughout the world”.
Incarcerated since the authorities arrested him inside London’s Ecuadorian Embassy in April, 2019, a British court is set to rule on 4 January as to whether or not Assange should be extradited to the US.
The UN expert “respectfully” requested Assange’s release after visiting him with two independent medical doctors in Belmarsh High Security Prison in London.
“I can attest to the fact that his health has seriously deteriorated, to the point where his life is now in danger”, Melzer said. “Critically, Mr. Assange suffers from a documented respiratory condition which renders him extremely vulnerable to the Covid-19 pandemic that has recently broken out in the prison”.
If extradited to the US, the Wikileaks founder faces criminal prosecution and up to 175 years in prison for the 2010 publication of secret documents through his platform which publishes leaked military, diplomatic, and other files categorized as State secrets.
The UN expert asked that Assange be pardoned, saying, “he is not, and has never been, an enemy of the American people”.
“Wikileaks fights secrecy and corruption throughout the world and, therefore, acts in the public interest both of the American people and of humanity as a whole”, Melzer said.
He made the case that Assange had never hacked, stolen or published false information, nor caused reputational harm through any personal misconduct, pointing out that whether one agrees or disagrees with their publications, “they clearly cannot be regarded as crimes”.
The Special Rapporteur upheld that Assange had obtained his information from “authentic documents and sources in the same way as any other serious and independent investigative journalists conduct their work”.
The expert explained his request, saying that prosecuting Assange for publishing true information about serious official misconduct would amount to “shooting the messenger” rather than correcting the problem he exposed.
Moreover, it would be incompatible with the core values of justice, rule of law and press freedom, as reflected in the American Constitution and US-ratified international human rights instruments.
“I ask because you have vowed, Mr. President, to pursue an agenda of fighting government corruption and misconduct; and because allowing the prosecution of Mr. Assange to continue would mean that, under your legacy, telling the truth about such corruption and misconduct has become a crime”, the letter continued.
The UN expert’s appeal came on the same day President Trump approved a wave of pre-Christmas pardons, granting clemency to a former campaign aide caught up in the Russia investigation, disgraced Republican lawmakers and several contractors convicted in a massacre in Iraq.
The White House announced on Tuesday Trump has granted full pardons to 15 people and commuted all or part of the sentences of five others. The beneficiaries include George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide who pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and Alex van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to a similar charge in the Russia investigation and is the son-in-law of the Russian billionaire German Khan.