WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could soon die behind bars unless the British government changes its ways, a human rights expert for the United Nations warned Friday.
Nils Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, reiterated concerns about Mr. Assange’s well-being as the publisher remains jailed in London pending a U.S. extradition request.
“Unless the U.K. urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life,” Mr. Melzer said in a statement.
Mr. Assange, 48, spent roughly seven years living as a political refugee inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London prior to being ejected in April and promptly arrested by British police. He has been jailed ever since at nearby Belmarsh Prison pending the results of extradition proceedings currently slated to start early next year, at which point he risks being sent to the U.S. to stand trial for criminal charges related to running his WikiLeaks website.
Mr. Melzer, an independent expert for the U.N. on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, previously reported after visiting Mr. Assange in May that he showed “all the symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture” and urged British authorities to intervene.
“However, what we have seen from the U.K. government is outright contempt for Mr. Assange’s rights and integrity,” Mr. Melzer said Friday. “Despite the medical urgency of my appeal, and the seriousness of the alleged violations, the U.K. has not undertaken any measures of investigation, prevention and redress required under international law.”
“The blatant and sustained arbitrariness shown by both the judiciary and the government in this case suggests an alarming departure from the U.K.’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law,” he added.
A spokesperson for the British government disputed the expert’s findings when reached for comment.
“We strongly disagree with any suggestion that Mr. Assange has experienced improper treatment in the U.K.,” a spokesperson for the British government told The Washington Times. “The allegation Mr. Assange was subjected to torture is unfounded and wholly false. The U.K. is committed to upholding the rule of law, and ensuring that no one is ever above it.”
Federal prosecutors in the U.S. have charged Mr. Assange, an Australian native, with violating federal law by soliciting and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents provided to WikiLeaks nearly a decade ago by Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst. He faces a maximum sentence of 175 years imprisonment if extradited and convicted on all counts.
Mr. Assange has argued he acted as a journalist when he disseminated the documents, which revealed previously unreported information about U.S. activities overseas. The Department of Justice has argued otherwise and claims Mr. Assange put lives at risk by publishing classified documents that contained the names of confidential human sources.
Extradition proceedings for Mr. Assange are set to start in London in February 2020.