After months of seeking permission to visit Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, two German Parliamentarians, Sevim Dagdelen and Heike Hansel, were finally able to meet with the Australian publisher this past week. They held a press conference afterwards during which they denounced the United States’ extraterritorial persecution of Assange, the U.K.’s refusal to acknowledge a U.N. ruling, and the overall isolation that Assange is currently living under. And although you may have watched the press conference on Thursday, the German lawmakers’ assessment of Julian Assange’s situation is well worth revisiting.
German MP Sevim Dagdelen started the press conference by discussing the conditions that Assange is currently forced to live under,
“Julian Assange has been isolated the last eight months in the Ecuadorian embassy and that’s why he was very happy to have visitors and to talk to them. And [it] was very nice to have such a happy guy in front of us, sitting, being happy to have German Parliamentarians asking for his health and his security here.”
She went on to describe Assange’s situation as “extremely precarious and inhuman,” and that 80% of his time is spent in complete isolation. Assange’s father, John Shipton, was also in attendance and when asked about his son’s health and demeanor he responded with a heartfelt plea that his son’s persecution and that of his family come to an end,
“I think that it’s time for this torment of Julian to end rather than constantly increase now that the isolation’s been going on for eight months and as you could expect anybody who’s isolated from their children and their family, Julian’s sister, two brothers, mother suffers and suffers terribly. So that’s timely to end this ceaseless increasing torment of a man who’s been charged with nothing at all.”
Shipton travels to London every Christmas to visit his son at the embassy but this year things are a little bit different. With only a few days left before the holiday, he still isn’t sure if he will be allowed to visit his son on Christmas Day due to the repressive regulations President Moreno has placed on Assange in order to maintain his asylum status. According to Ecuador, Assange is only allowed visitors during working hours and, technically, there are no “working hours” on Christmas Day. German MP Heike Hansel described Moreno’s rules and regulations as quite strict and a “kind of isolation policy” closely linked to Assange’s political asylum.
As for Assange’s health, Shipton said it was declining due to “eight years of ceaseless ongoing stress, court cases, no sunlight, restricted visitation, no telecommunications, no telephone, no friends, only lawyers…” Assange, a publisher and journalist who has never been charged with a crime, has been arbitrarily detained since 2010, and forced to live in the Ecuadorian embassy for more than the past six years.
Dagdelen, the first German Parliamentarian to visit Assange in September 2012, had this to say about so-called Western values and human rights,
“[I]t’s a very singular problem. I have never seen such a problem and such a case in the world [where] someone who is getting political asylum from a different country is not allowed to do his own political opinion on issues to talk about…this is against international law, it has to be stopped.
The freedom of expression, the freedom of political opinion is a human right and it’s a part of international law and everyone has to respect this international law.
…what makes this case very singular is that there is no other publisher or editor in the Western world who has been arbitrarily detained. It’s just Julian Assange. And it’s a shame for us, for the Western countries, for the Western world, who has got this so-called Western values about human rights…That’s why we force, of course, and ask and demand that this case has to be solved…that no publisher, no editor, no journalist is detained because of publishing the truth.
Making public war crimes is not a crime. What is a crime is doing or ordering war crimes, but not publishing it and reporting it.”
At the heart of Julian Assange’s precarious situation is the United States government who has been itching to get Assange in U.S. custody since the last time the Chinese calendar saw the Year of the Rat back in 2008. However, as Dagdelen pointed out and as we are witnessing in the Huawei case where the CEO of the company was recently arrested in Canada at the behest of the United States, the U.S. is trying to enforce their laws not just in the European Union but throughout the world as if the entire global population serves at the pleasure of the Trump administration, U.S. policies, and American laws. Hansel stated,
“Of course we are also very much concerned that there could be a release, end of this political asylum by the Ecuadorian government…and at the end of this case could be the extradition to the United States.
Therefore, we call upon our own government, all European governments, Member States of the European Union, that they should prevent any, any case extradition to the United States and we ask for the rejection of the attempt of the U.S. administration that they now try to get U.S. laws set here in the European Union.
That means that they [U.S.] try to censor journalists writing in Europe and this is, I think, this case must be fully rejected by the Member States.”
She went on to compare the Trump administration to Turkish President Erdogan’s extraterritorial persecution of German journalists and reiterated that the attempts of the U.S. government to persecute Assange must be rejected. Due to the government’s repressive regime, Turkey ranked #157 on rsf.org’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, right above Kazakhstan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, China, and North Korea. The country remains the “world’s biggest prison for professional journalists, with members of the press spending more than a year in prison before trial.”
Although Assange’s legal issues surrounding his asylum appear complicated and overwhelming, his arbitrary detainment and the inability to obtain safe passage despite the UN’s ruling lies strictly with the United Kingdom—although they may not see it that way. Former U.K. Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond called the U.N. Working Group’s decision “ridiculous,” after which Prime Minister Theresa May and the Foreign Office spent two years completely ignoring the legally-binding decision. Assange’s response,
“The United Nations last night stated that the Working Group’s decisions are legally binding…they are an opinion juris which is higher in the hierarchy of international norms…They are part of the founding basis of the United Nations which the UK and Sweden are part of.”
“They cannot now seek to object to the findings of a process which they themselves were involved in for 16 months. A jurisdiction which they submitted to, recognized and, in part, founded together with their early involvement in the United Nations.”
“You can’t decide that you are going to recognized a forum, take place in proceedings, respond to the other party, and then at the end when you don’t like the outcome because you have been breaking the law—and you don’t even bother to appeal—come out with press statements and say, ‘Well, we disagree,’ or engage in purely superfluous ad hominem attacks like saying that a finding is ‘ridiculous.'”
Dagdelen addressed the situation on Thursday adding,
“I mean, it’s a member of the United Nations, it has a seat in the Security Council and, in my point of view, United Kingdom is damned to accept and respect the international law and the international rights of someone like Julian Assange.”
“And that’s why United Kingdom has to take the measures now to bring it to a solution which is in the frame of international law and not in the frame of the US administration who is against international law and against actually the US law. I mean, against the First Amendment they are taking measures like the protection of journalists and freedom of speech and the freedom of press so we have to actually protect them from themselves not to violate the First Amendment.”
The bottom line is that the U.K. is responsible for granting Assange safe passage and yet they are rarely attacked for failing to do so despite the fact that they’ve been thumbing their noses at the U.N.’s decision for years. Admittedly, the case can be confusing; for instance, although the embassy is located in London, Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador who is considered to be his host country. However, because the embassy is located in London, that leaves the U.K. directly responsible for his safe passage out of the country. It’s also possible that President Moreno’s increasingly close relationship with the U.S. has overshadowed the fact that the U.K. has been breaking the law for years.
On December 13, 2018, a tribunal of Ecuadorian judges heard Assange’s appeal against President Moreno’s new restrictions at the Ecuadorian embassy that must be followed as a condition of his political asylum. Limitations include restricted speech, forced medical testing, no internet access, limited visitors, and no telephone calls. There is absolutely no legal justification for Moreno’s restrictions and they are, in fact, a violation of Ecuador’s Constitution, court rulings, U.N. findings, and Assange’s human rights.
In what can only be described as an incredible display of hypocrisy, six days later Ecuador “reaffirmed the promotion of the defense and protection of human rights defenders,” and reiterated its alleged commitment to human rights during a U.N. General Assembly meeting.
Additionally, the Provincial Court of Pichincha ruled against Assange last night because according to the court, “no right has been violated,” which sounds like something the Guardian might write. The fact that two German Parliamentarians had to travel to London and hold a press conference about Assange’s fundamental rights being violated is evidence alone that his rights are being violated. Hansel told the crowd outside the London embassy on Thursday that it took her more than seven months to get permission from Ecuador to visit Assange.
“The fact that he is arbitrarily detained…it is actually opinion of the United Nations. The United Nations said that his detention is against international law and it’s against human rights so therefore, we are, as German Parliamentarians, very afraid about these rumors we’re getting about the Ecuadorian authorities, the administration, that they want to get rid of Julian Assange, that they want to end his political asylum.”
She urged Ecuador to continue protecting Assange and his asylum, describing it as a “great, great achievement” and “good prestige” for Ecuador.
WHAT ELSE IS BEING DONE?
Despite the recent ruling against Assange, the tides may be changing. Stefania Maurizi, a journalist who has been fighting for access to correspondence between London’s Metropolitan Police and U.S. authorities, won her FOIA appeal case just last week. According to the Daily Dot, she “sought disclosure of information held about editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, current editor Joseph Farrell, and former editor Sarah Harrison.” The MET will now be forced to release any pertinent records by January 14, 2019.
And just yesterday the United Nations released a statement demanding that the U.K. “abides by its international obligations and immediately allows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to walk free.” The U.K. ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and is obligated to respect it in all cases, according to the U.N.
In other words, the U.K. can’t arbitrarily pick and choose which provisions and decisions they will or will not follow.
UN issues major statement demanding UK govt allow Assange to leave embassy & not face extradition to US. Theresa May now has a choice: uphold UN/international law or acquiesce in Trump’s persecution and false charges. Which UK MPs will now support the UN? https://t.co/TcZtFglgE3 pic.twitter.com/cXLTLBKhLn— Mark Curtis (@markcurtis30) December 21, 2018
And on December 10, 2018, over thirty German and EU MPs, including Dagdelen and Hansel, signed a letter to the U.N. Secretary General, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, and President Moreno asking for their assistance in Assange’s protection and immediate release.
“The constant and unwanted threat from Britain and the United States, the years of arbitrary detention, the ongoing separation from his family, friends and loved ones, the lack of proper medical care, the most recent isolation of Mr. Assange since March of this year; these are indeed very serious and egregious violations of Human Rights, in the heart of Europe.”
Both German MPs are determined to find a solution to Assange’s case and say that they will “continue to build a network of MPs in the European Union in order to support these court cases in Ecuador but also here in the European Union in order to protect him.” They plan on campaigning publicly, as well.
Dagdelen believes that the case is not about Assange’s personality or character but rather about the freedom of the press, speech and opinion, and that showing solidarity for Assange means showing solidarity for all fundamental human rights.
“We have to say thank you to Julian Assange, he’s one of the most important whistleblowers and we ask for international protection for whistleblowers generally and in the special case of Julian Assange. Therefore, we also call upon the United Nations to start a new campaign for protection of whistleblowers and we will keep on now campaigning for solidarity for Julian Assange in order to see him in a safe country.”
It seems that whether or not Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, Theresa May, or the Trump administration likes it, supporters of human rights, free speech and a free press are not going to go quietly into the night and no amount of propaganda will erase them from the history books as world leaders who violated the human rights of others. The longer that Assange’s restrictions at the embassy remain in place, they continue to violate his fundamental rights, and he continues to live under inhumane and torturous conditions, the louder activists and supporters’ voices will be in response.
In the words of German Parliamentarian Heike Hansel, “We ask for the international community, all supporters of Julian Assange, to show now strong solidarity in order to prevent the extradition to the United States. This is our main goal. We want to see Julian Assange as a free journalist who can keep on with his work as he did before.”