WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange was paid a visit in prison Thursday by a privacy envoy for the United Nations.
Joe Cannataci, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to privacy, met with Mr. Assange at Belmarsh prison in London where he has been jailed since his arrest two weeks earlier.
The U.N. is investigating whether Ecuador violated Mr. Assange’s privacy under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Government on Civil and Political Rights by placing him under strict surveillance prior to expelling him from the country’s London embassy on April 11, Mr. Cannataci told reporters.
“The case is important because it concerns a very special set of circumstances where a person who is not formally under detention yet was subjected to surveillance,” Mr. Cannataci said outside the prison.
“From a privacy point of view, what we have to establish is, firstly, is the surveillance based on a measure which is provided for by law, and secondary, is it a measure which is both proportionate and necessary to the circumstances of the case,” Mr. Cannataci said. “So what we’re trying to do is establish the circumstances of the case, establish the facts of the case and then be able to take that forward to see whether … the actions taken can meet the tests of proportionality and necessity.”
Mr. Assange, a 47-year-old Australian native, sought refuge within the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 as the U.S. Department of Justice investigated his WikiLeaks website and its acquisition and publication of classified material. He soon received political asylum and ultimately spent roughly seven years on the property prior to having his status revoked earlier this month by Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno and being accordingly arrested promptly by British police. He has since been charged in the U.S. with conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and the Justice Department is seeking his extradition.
Allies of Mr. Assange alleged on the eve of his eviction from the embassy that Mr. Moreno’s administration had conducted “an extensive spying operation” that resulted in Quito in being able to monitor the Wikileaks publisher’s meetings with attorneys and doctors, among other visitors.
WikiLeaks subsequently announced that Mr. Cannataci would visit Mr. Assange at the embassy on April 25, but that meeting was moved following his arrest hours later.
Jennifer Robinson, an Australian lawyer representing Mr. Assange, said in a statement that his legal team welcomed the UN’s continued engagement in the case.
“It is a matter of grave concern that Ecuador expelled Mr. Assange from the embassy before the scheduled U.N. visit could take place,” Ms. Robinson said after participating in Thursday’s meeting. “We are grateful to the UN Special Rapporteur, Professor Cannataci, for arranging for the visit to take place at Belmarsh prison.”
Representatives of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Defending his decision to revoke Mr. Assange’s asylum status, Mr. Moreno previously called him a “cyber terrorist” and accused him of turning the embassy into a “center for spying.”
Mr. Cannataci’s remarks with reports outside the prison were first reported by Russian state media.
The Justice Department alleges Mr. Assange conspired in 2010 to try to help former Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning bypass security mechanisms meant to safeguard sensitive data stored on Department of Defense computers.
Manning, 31, was convicted of related crimes in 2013 and served roughly seven years in military prison. She has been back in prison since March 8 after being found in contempt for refusing to cooperate with the government’s WikiLeaks probe.