Government’s reticence over Julian Assange criticised

Julian Assange could be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for violating anti-espionage laws. Keystone / Will Oliver

The UN special rapporteur against torture has criticised the Swiss government for failing to support the founder of Wikileaks.

This content was published on December 29, 2019 - 15:49
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In an interview with the SonntagsBlick published on Sunday, Nils Melzer said that the Swiss government wanted to avoid taking a position on Assange as it could risk American retaliation on the country’s financial sector. The Zurich native warned that "keeping quiet is certainly not in Switzerland's long-term interest".

With its democratic, humanitarian and human rights tradition, Switzerland "could be clearer also in the face of powerful states, and call for respect for the fundamental norms of international law using diplomatic channels," emphasised the independent UN expert and professor of international law. He also pointed out that the Geneva City Parliament had wanted to offer Julian Assange asylum.

Recently, Melzer (who has visited Assange several times) concluded that torture had been inflicted on the founder of WikiLeaks. He also felt that his survival was now in jeopardy. According to Melzer, Assange is under 24-hour video surveillance, isolated from "any friendly, familiar contact" and kept in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day. In addition, he has no access to his American lawyers or to the prosecution's case file.

175 years in prison

Assange has been held in London's Belmarsh high security prison since April, sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for violating the conditions of his bail.

He spent seven years in Ecuador's London embassy after the country had granted him asylum. During this time he avoided extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault investigation. Assange was removed from the premises by British police on April 11. The Swedish prosecutor's office announced in November that it would not pursue charges for lack of evidence.

The British court is due to decide shortly whether or not to authorise the extradition of the Australian to the United States on spying charges. In 2010, WikiLeaks had published more than 700,000 confidential documents on US military and diplomatic activities. These included references to human rights violations. Assange could be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in the US for violating anti-espionage laws.

This article has been amended to clarify Julian Assange's status prior to his 2019 arrest.

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