Tag Archives: Julian Assange

The Saga of Julian Assange - The New York Times 20160207

The Saga of Julian Assange - The New York Times 20160207

Julian Assange


The curious case of Julian Assange got curiouser last week when a United Nations rights panel concluded that the WikiLeaks founder has been “arbitrarily detained” by Britain and Sweden for more than five years, including the past three and a half years that he has been holed up as a diplomatic refugee in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. The finding, which is not legally enforceable, was “ridiculous,” responded the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond. But then so is much else in this convoluted saga, which should be drawn to a close.

Mr. Assange, 44, a onetime computer hacker with an Australian passport, has spent those five years fighting or evading British efforts to extradite him to Sweden, which says it wants to question him about accusations of rape. Mr. Assange and his backers say what is really going on is an attempt to extradite him to the United States to face charges for WikiLeaks’s role in receiving and publishing tens of thousands of secret American military and diplomatic cables in 2010. The New York Times and The Guardian also published many of the cables. Neither Sweden nor the United States has filed formal charges against Mr. Assange.

On Friday, the five-member United Nations “working group on arbitrary detention,” which is under the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and to which Mr. Assange appealed, declared that his ordeal amounted to being “subjected to different forms of deprivation,” which were arbitrary because of the “lack of diligence” by Swedish prosecutors.

Though Swedish prosecutors have said they only want to question Mr. Assange, they insisted that this must take place in Sweden — until last March, when they changed their mind and said they were willing to go to London. They haven’t yet, though Mr. Assange has said all along he’s agreeable to an interrogation there.

The United States also has not filed formal charges against Mr. Assange and what they would charge him with is not clear. In the end, the United Nations ruling, dubious as it may seem, might offer a way for Sweden and Britain to walk away from a case that has not made much sense from the outset.

On Assange, Following the Rules or Flouting Them? - Human Rights Watch 20160205

On Assange, Following the Rules or Flouting Them? - Human Rights Watch 20160205

It should not have been terribly surprising to Sweden or the United Kingdom that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the various forms of confinement suffered by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange violate his human rights. The Working Group has many times warned that it is unlawful to force someone to choose between liberty and a fundamental right, such as asylum, which Assange now enjoys only so long as he stays inside the walls of the Ecuadorean embassy.

What is news are the deplorable rhetorical parries from the UK and Swedish governments, who both stated not just disagreement, but that the Working Group opinion would have absolutely no effect on their actions. This is not what one expects from democratic governments who usually support the UN mechanisms and international law.

“This changes nothing,” declared the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The foreign secretary diplomatically called the ruling “frankly ridiculous,” disparaging the Working Group as “a group of laypeople, not lawyers” (in fact, many of the experts are professors of law or human rights or both). Sweden managed to avoid imprecation, but was no less unreceptive. The Foreign Ministry declared that the Working Group had no right to “interfere in an ongoing case handled by a Swedish public authority” and continued to insist that “Mr. Assange is free to leave the Embassy at any point.” As for the Prosecutor’s Office, it declared the UN body’s opinion “has no formal impact on the ongoing investigation, according to Swedish law.”

While the Working Group does not have the authority to force governments to heed its decisions, it is the authoritative voice of the UN on the issue of arbitrary detention, and its opinions are given great weight as interpretations of binding international law obligations. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights today attempted to remind Sweden and the UK of that in a discrete Note to Editors, saying the opinions should be taken into consideration as they are based on international human rights law that binds the relevant states.

Not much consideration appears to be happening. The UK has said that it will arrest Assange if he leaves the shelter of the embassy, either because of the European arrest warrant the Swedish prosecutor issued to investigate allegations of sexual offenses, or because he violated the conditions of his house arrest by going directly from his last UK court appearance to the Ecuadorean embassy in London to apply for asylum.

The Working Group found that Assange’s confinement – first in a UK prison, then under house arrest, and now in the embassy – violated his human rights. Given that Assange has claimed political asylum, a claim Ecuador recognizes but the UK and Sweden have not taken into account, the Working Group said his freedom of movement and security as a refugee should be respected, and compensation awarded.

Both Sweden and the UK are parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the treaty on which much of the decision rests, and are bound by other customary international law against returning refugees to locations where they risk persecution. Their failure to give due consideration to these international rights and obligations is what drove the conclusion that Assange’s confinement is “arbitrary.”

Let’s be clear: the issue is not Assange fleeing Swedish justice; he has continually expressed his willingness to be investigated by Sweden. What he won’t do is risk eventual extradition to the United States, which would like to prosecute him under the Espionage Act.

That is because WikiLeaks revealed the embarrassing diplomatic cables that Chelsea Manning leaked. And if you look at Manning’s fate, Assange has plenty to fear. Manning was abused in pretrial detention, denied the defense that the public interest justified her disclosures, and sentenced to 35 years. A secret US grand jury has been investigatingAssange on related Espionage Act charges for close to five years. Neither Sweden nor the UK will promise Assange he won’t be extradited, and both are close US allies in national security and intelligence affairs.

So who are the losers? Assange, who has already been confined longer than the maximum term he would serve in a Swedish prison were he found guilty, and the Swedish women who made the original allegations, and whose government won’t pursue the matter if it means protecting Assange from extradition to the US.

And now the UK and Sweden are big losers as well. Their fatuous dismissal of the Working Group won’t impugn this necessary and neutral body that was established by the world’s governments to uphold rights. But both have severely damaged their own reputation for being so ready to dismiss upholding inconvenient human rights obligations and their credibility as global advocates for rights by refusing to respect the institution of asylum.

Ai Weiwei and Julian Assange post middle fingers on Instagram - The Guardian 20150917

Ai Weiwei and Julian Assange post selfie on Instagram - The Guardian 20150917

Dissidents raise the finger with a grin at the Ecuadorian embassy, London

Ai Weiwei and Julian Assange post selfie on Instagram
Julian Assange, right and Ai Weiwei, who has a Royal Academy exhibition opening on Saturday.

Ai Weiwei and Julian Assange have made what seem to be gestures of contempt for their critics in a selfie posted to an Instagram account.

Ai Weiwei review – momentous and moving

If there were any who doubted Ai Weiwei’s work matched his reputation, this rollercoaster of a show – racing between his time in jail, the Sichuan earthquake and 3,000 crabs – should silence them

The picture, which was uploaded to Ai’s Instagram account on Wednesday and is understood to have been taken inside the Ecuadorian embassy in west London, shows both men grinning impishly at the camera, left hands raised with their middle fingers extended.

Assange, head of the WikiLeaks whistleblowing website, has had refuge at the embassy since 2012, because of the threat of being extradited to Sweden where he faces an arrest warrant relating to allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Assange also fears the possibility of onward extradition to the US, where authorities are believed to be building an espionage case against him for publishing secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for obtaining US diplomatic cables, which embroiled the country in huge international scandals. He could not be reached for comment on Thursday. And a spokesperson for WikiLeaks could not say what he and Ai spoke about at the embassy.

The artist and dissident Ai was detained without charge in China for 81 days in 2011, during a crackdown there on political activists. The government also confiscated his passport, returning it in July, after which he travelled to German, and Britain, despite UK border authorities initially refusing him a visa.

The supposedly most egregious crime of Ai, a persistent critic of China’s regime, was to have created an artwork composed of 9,000 children’s backpacks, as a commentary on the multiple school building collapses during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed thousands of pupils.

Ai also published the names of 5,000 of the dead schoolchildren, prompting authorities to shut down his blog, demolish his studio, investigate him on charges of pornography, bigamy, tax avoidance and foreign currency irregularities, and beat him until he suffered brain injury.

At the Royal Academy, in London, Ai currently has a retrospective, opening to the public on Saturday, featuring artworks dating to 1993, the year he returned to Beijing after living in the US for 12 years.