Briefing note regarding the extradition case of Julian Paul Assange

Dear Commissioner,

We, hereby, « Maison des Lanceurs d’alerte » (France), Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (France), Syndicat National des Journalistes (France), La Quadrature du Net (France), The International Federation for Human Rights (Global), The Signals Network (United States/Global), Whistleblower Netzwerk (Germany), Fundacion Balthazar Garzon (Spain), EuroMed Rights (Europe), Association Européenne des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme (Europe), Ligue des Droits de l’Homme Suisse (Switzerland), CETIM (Switzerland), Solidarité Bosnie (Suisse), ADETRA (Suisse), Liga voor de Rechten van de Mens (Netherlands) are honoured to submit a memorandum on legal considerations related to the situation of Julian Paul Assange, founder of the website « Wikileaks ».

In August 2012, Julian Paul Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador on the basis of fears of political persecution and possible extradition to the United States. In January 2018, he was granted Ecuadorian citizenship; however this status was suspended in April 2019. Assange remained in the Embassy of Ecuador in London for almost seven years. In April 2019, Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno stated that Assange had violated the terms of his asylum and the latter was subsequently withdrawn.

On 11 April 2019, the Metropolitan Police were invited into the Ecuadorian embassy and arrested Julian Paul Assange. The arrest was in connection with Assange’s failure to surrender to the court in June 2012, in view of his extradition to Sweden. Since his arrest at the embassy, Assange has been incarcerated in HM Prison Belmarsh in London. He is currently waiting a hearing on his extradition to the United States. His extradition trial will start on February 24 for a week, with the remaining three weeks taking place from May 18.

On Thursday, May 23, 2019, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned a superseding indictment charging WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with 17-counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of conspiring to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The counts carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison. His extradition trial will start on February 24 for a week, with the remaining three weeks taking place from May 18.

In this briefing note, the petitioners will draw your attention on several salient human rights issues at stake in the situation of Mr. Assange. this case.

First of all, the petitioners will develop that the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States would amount to a violation of article 3 prohibiting ill-treatment, in light of the current case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. Given the current health condition of Mr Assange and his subsequent vulnerability, in view of the impossibility to formulate a public interest defence under the Espionage act 1917 as well as the disproportionate character of the maximum penalty incurred, an extradition to the United States would likely expose him to illtreatment within the meaning of article 3 of the Convention.

The petitioners will then stress that the 24/7 surveillance of Assange during his stay at the Ecuadorian embassy in London blatantly violated the principle of attorney-client confidentiality, as meetings between Assange and his lawyers were systematically monitored. In light of this violation, it appears that the respect of Mr. Assange’s right to fair trial and to a defense would be seriously compromised if he were to be extradited to the United States.

Finally, the third category of counts against Assange—counts 15 through 17— is merely based on the posting the documents on the internet, and did not consider other actions, such as encouraging leaks or receiving information. The counts represent the first time a US grand jury has issued an indictment based on acts of pure publication. This far-reaching scope of the count amounts to a significant threat to news reporting, an activity that is afforded the highest level of protection under article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Thus, the extradition of Mr. Assange carries the potential of setting a dangerous precedent that would undermine and threaten Council of Europe standards on the protection of whistleblowers as well as press freedom all around Europe.

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