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Baltasar Garzón on Assange: This case involves an attack against the right of freedom of the press around the world

“To seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”, is part of the right to inform.

 

Baltasar Garzón & Julian Assange. Photo from El Ciudadano

Bruno Sommer Catalán/ EL CIUDADANO

 

Baltasar Garzón is clear on the fact that and as a “tireless human rights activist” he is preparing the defence of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, journalist and modern-day hero, prosecuted for revealing the number one human rights violator in the world: the United States.

In a conversation with El Ciudadano, Garzón is clear that “the objective reason for the withdrawal of asylum lies in and has come to point to, for a long time, the media and the pressures of the North American administration”.

What legal elements make Lenin Moreno’s decision to terminate Julian Assange’s asylum illegal?

The institution of asylum seeks to protect a citizen when it is subjected to unlawful prosecution which could put that citizen’s physical well-being at risk.  If a country in the international community makes a sovereign decision and, after analysing a situation, grants asylum to protect a citizen, this asylum cannot be revoked until this demonstrable risk that justified the granting of asylum falls away. This is regulated by multiple international conventions such as the 1951 Geneva Convention or the 1954 Caracas Convention. In Mr Assange’s case, in 2012, Ecuador assessed the situation and reached the conclusion that there was a real risk that, as a result, a political prosecution would be brought by the United States for the publication of classified material which proved that military officials and people from this country committed war crimes, Mr Assange, a journalist carrying out his duties, could end up under the North American jurisdiction with his well-being clearly at risk.  Since 2012, aggression against Mr Assange from political officials and institutions and other U.S. institutions has only increased exponentially and include requests from political authorities in the media that he receive the death penalty. The Trump administration has called for his extrajudicial arrest and has even mistakenly revealed the existence of secret criminal charges against him that they deliberately did not want to make public until he had been arrested upon leaving the embassy.  It is therefore clear that the real risk which led to his asylum being granted in 2012 has not ceased but has in fact increased. Ecuador cannot therefore unilaterally and arbitrarily terminate asylum at its discretion without carrying out a risk assessment. The Inter-American Court has pointed this out to the country in its Advisory Opinion 25/18 as has the Inter-American Commission in the Precautionary Measures 54/19. To therefore revoke asylum in this way, Ecuador has committed an act absolutely contrary to the most fundamental human right.

Julian Assange. OperationPaperStorm Photo Flickr bit.ly/2KDKhHv

What caused Lenin Moreno to take this decision? Were there pressures? Could the INA papers cost him the presidency?

From the defence, we consider that the President of Ecuador has tried to justify his decision in absolutely inexplicable terms; the existence of a spy cat, the spreading of faeces on embassy walls, poor hygiene and other justifications that, as well as being false, do not make any sense. The objective reason for the withdrawal of asylum lies in and has come to point to, for a long time, the media and pressures from the North American administration. This has come to light in confirmed meetings with the Trump administration, letters received from members of the North American legislative power and, as published in various media, Ecuador’s request for a loan from the IMF, in which the United States would have played an important role. In any event, the reasons given by the presidency and other representatives of the Ecuadorian government have no legal standing and we intend to question them, and, in fact, we already have before the IACHR. But, in addition to the above, it is important to remember that 24 hours before the decision to withdraw asylum, the organisation WikiLeaks reported that it had uncovered a spying operation within the embassy against Mr Assange on the basis that this material would have come from the power of Ecuador and a group of people were extorting the organisation. This material, which the organisation could access when the extortionists made it available, consisted of security camera recordings in the embassy, recordings of Mr Assange in meetings with his lawyers, doctors and other visitors, through microphones, correspondence from his lawyers, including documents which his lawyers would have brought into the embassy to assist with the exercise of his right of defence. The disclosure of this sensitive fact was made just 24 hours before Ecuador’s decision to put an end to his asylum. With regards the INA Papers, WikiLeaks has repeatedly stated that it has not participated in this investigative work. This work was carried out by the Ecuadorian media. It is therefore nothing more than a smokescreen to try to link WikiLeaks to this matter. The United States says that it is a country that defends freedom of expression, freedom to report, but here… Evidently the prosecution of a journalist for publishing truthful information from anonymous sources is a dangerous precedent for press freedom.     We all remember the journalists from Watergate, decorated by the whole world for uncovering crimes of corruption through sources that they had found and that were guaranteed anonymity.  In this case, Mr Assange, a working journalist, published serious war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan and his prosecution for doing so involves an extremely dangerous setback for press freedom.

Photo: Pixabay

One of the risks of Assange’s extradition to the United States is that he will be tortured. Why?

Very simply, because the person that was his source (according to the United States), Chelsea Manning, was subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment during her detention in a North American military prison. This is not merely a claim of mine but was determined by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in its 2012 report to the UN Human Rights Council. Therefore, if this has already been determined by a UN body in an immediate precedent, what could happen to Mr Assange there?

Could a person be extradited to a country that has the death penalty?

They shouldn’t, and for this reason, the more legally advanced countries have provisions to that effect. However, the United Kingdom does extradite to countries that have the death penalty provided that there is a commitment by that country that, ultimately, even if the person is sentenced to the death penalty, it would not be carried out. This means that the person could be sentenced to death, and includes being on death row or life imprisonment, provided that there is a commitment not to carry it out eventually.   But in the case of United States and United Kingdom relations, there are various precedents which show that this point has not been complied with. Besides, this point aside, what’s happening here is not about whether the death penalty should be enforced.  Nor whether cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment can be inflicted. What must be clarified here is that a journalist cannot be prosecuted for publishing truthful information.

How will the United States seek to remove the political basis of Assange’s prosecution?

In the little information set out in the arrest warrant issued against him, it tries, in very vague and abstract terms, to prove that Mr Assange assisted Manning to access this information.  However, these claims are absolutely absurd. Mr Assange did not even know who the source of the leak was because WikiLeaks guarantees their anonymity.

How will England’s accusation of a breach of bail conditions be answered?

It has already been answered in Opinion 54/15 of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention when it indicated to the United Kingdom that a person who is at a real risk of prosecution is forced to seek asylum because they do not have any other way to protect their life and integrity.  This was argued before the British judicial authority although it appears that the United Kingdom is not going to address the UN bodies.

How would you describe Julian’s current state of health?

Mr Assange has shown incredible strength. 7 years later and he continues with the same strength he had when he entered. However, it is clear that 7 years isolated in an embassy has caused incalculable damage.  Therefore, after 7 years without receiving any medical treatment, his admission into hospital was to be expected.  But the British authorities decided to send him to a maximum-security prison.

Photo: Pixabay

Which of Julian’s rights are being violated at the moment and have been since the start of his prosecution?

To start, the right to physical safety; the asylum granted by Ecuador was never recognised by countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States.

But, also, Mr Assange’s right to life and personal integrity are clearly at risk. But apart from his rights, and on a more structural basis, this case involves an attack against the right of freedom of the press around the world.

What about the legal prosecution of the Unites States before the courts for all of the acts it committed as reported by WikiLeaks with evidence?

Nothing has been filed in this regard. We all remember, for example, the video of the Apache helicopter in Baghdad where two Reuters journalists died. But, inexplicably, material of these details exists, and nothing has been done.

How do they think it’s possible to break the information blockade from WikiLeaks and the disinformation generated by large media corporations with matters like Julian, the economic sanctions in Venezuela, the siege of Iran and others?

It is interesting that a lot of the media, looking to prosecute someone in their trade, a journalist, are reporting that Mr Assange was riding a skateboard or that he met such people. They must focus on the serious issue in this case, the prosecution of a journalist for doing his job and revealing to the world crimes committed by the powerful.

What message would Julian and the WikiLeaks team like to send to the world right now and to journalists in particular?

This case must not be viewed as a single case or action against Mr Assange. This case involves a before and after for the world press. It is a warning to journalists all over the world to not publish information that compromises powerful governments. Journalists all over the world should close ranks in respect of this case. In terms of the remaining three questions, I don’t think that I’m able to answer them in a non-judgemental way in my role as defence lawyer. And in terms of helping WikiLeaks, its goal is to defend press freedom and freedom of access to information of those involved because citizens know how their security is attacked on the pretext that it is for their protection. Defending those who make this possible and report these attacks is an obligation.

(Published by El Ciudadano)

(Translated by Corrine Harries – Email: corrine.harries@ch-translations.com)

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