- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 22, 2020

President Trump was pressed Tuesday to pardon Julian Assange by a United Nations human rights expert concerned about the possibility of the jailed WikiLeaks publisher being sent to the U.S. to stand trial.

Nils Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, made the plea the same day a group of German politicians came to Mr. Assange’s defense.

In an open letter addressed to Mr. Trump, Mr. Melzer argued Mr. Assange should be spared in part for exposing the sorts of government misconduct and corruption the president vowed to fight in office.

Mr. Melzer, noting Mr. Assange’s “seriously deteriorated” health, also raised concerns about him remaining jailed during the coronavirus pandemic while a U.K. court weighs if he should be sent to the U.S.

“Whatever our personal views and sympathies may be, I believe that, after a decade of persecution, this man’s unjust suffering must end now,” Mr. Melzer wrote in the open letter addressed to Mr. Trump.

The White House did not immediately respond to a message seeking its reaction.

Mr. Assange, an Australian, faces criminal charges in the U.S. related to running the WikiLeaks website and his role in it soliciting, receiving and releasing classified military and diplomatic materials.

Ecuador had granted asylum to Mr. Assange in 2012, and he lived inside its London embassy for roughly several years before he was extracted and arrested in April 2019. He has been jailed ever since.

The Department of Justice has asked for Mr. Assange to be extradited to the U.S., and a British court is set to announce its decision on Jan. 4. Mr. Trump leaves office shortly after on Jan. 20.

Mr. Assange faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life imprisoned if extradited to the U.S., and recently his supporters have urged Mr. Trump to issue a pardon as his days as president dwindle.

In the letter, Mr. Melzer, a longtime advocate for Mr. Assange, argued he already paid heavily for publishing information exposing the sort of government misconduct and corruption Mr. Trump vowed to fight.

Allowing the prosecution Mr. Assange to continue, Mr. Melzer wrote to Mr. Trump, “would mean that, under your legacy, telling the truth about such corruption and misconduct has become a crime.”

Mr. Melzer also denied the mere publication of classified U.S. documents was criminal and said prosecuting him for their release was akin to “shooting the messenger.”

“This would be incompatible with the core values of justice, rule of law and press freedom, as reflected in the American Constitution and international human rights instruments ratified by the United States,” he wrote.

Mr. Assange, 49, has a respiratory condition that puts him at higher risk for COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Mr. Melzer added. He raised similar concerns earlier this month with British authorities in light of reports about a COVID-19 outbreak at Belmarsh Prison in London where Mr. Assange is jailed.

Mr. Assange has been charged with violations of the U.S. Espionage Act and conspiring to commit the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He argues he acted as a journalist, not a criminal.

A cross-party group of five members of the Bundestag, the German parliament, announced the formation Tuesday of a “Free Julian Assange” working group that agrees.

“The extradition proceedings has precedent-setting character for journalists worldwide,” said Sevim Dagdelen of German Left Party, adding that defending “Assange’s freedom is the defense of freedom itself.”

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