UN May Find Detention of Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Illegal
Carey Shenkman of the Center for Constitutional Rights says Sweden and the UK are likely to honor UN decision
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
On Monday the UN will announce its findings of an investigation into whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been detained illegally. Assange has been in exile at the Ecuadorean embassy for over three and a half years now, as he fights the extradition to Sweden where he faces questioning on sexual assault allegations. He fears that Swedish authorities would then hand him over to the American authorities who are investigating WikiLeaks and Assange for releasing troves of highly-classified government files that have exposed spying, human rights violations, and other alleged wrongdoings. Now, the UN body considering the decision, which is the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, investigates cases of arbitrary arrest and violations of international law, has reportedly made its decision, and it will make it public Friday morning.
Now joining us to discuss what is expected is Carey Shenkman. He is a human rights attorney working with Michael Ratner, who is the President Emeritus for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Michael is also Julian Assange’s U.S. lawyer. Carey, thank you so much for joining us today.
CAREY SHENKMAN: Thank you for having me, Sharmini.
PERIES: So, Carey, what is expected to happen on Friday?
SHENKMAN: Well, the UN is set to reveal a very big decision, because as you mentioned, the UN’s highest authority on detention has been conducting an independent investigation of Julian Assange’s case. That independent investigation has been ongoing for the last 16 months, and has taken into account all the evidence submitted by the UK in Sweden in the case. That’s really important. So the UK and Sweden have participated in this proceeding, or had a chance to submit all their arguments, which they did. And Friday we finally expect a decision. We’re all very eager to see what the group comes out with.
PERIES: And so if they do recommend that Assange be released, would that decision be binding in any way when it comes to England and Sweden? In other words, when they make their announcement, will he be then able to walk out of that embassy?
SHENKMAN: Well, states respect the judgments of this UN body. I mean, it’s the most serious authority on detention in the world. Just, actually, recently you may have heard of the case of the Washington Post journalist who was detained in Iran. The working group was instrumental in that released. It involved the president of the Maldives. And I actually believe President Barack Obama has referenced decisions of, of the group.
So I mean, we’re looking here that the UK and Sweden submitted arguments, and had, had a chance to present all the evidence. So we look to those states to implement any decision in accord with their obligations under international law and the international covenant, civil and political rights to which both states are parties.
PERIES: And one of the points of contention here in the past has been, of course, the negotiations with the, with Swedish authorities. And of course, they had, they meaning the Julian Assange and his lawyers, had invited Swedish authorities, come and question him about the allegations and charges against him at the Ecuadorean embassy, but they never came. How will this decision impact on that?
SHENKMAN: Well, I want to clarify. So, Assange has not been charged with any crime, and that fact is instrumental here. Because when the group looks at a case they look, first, is someone detained? Second, is there a reason? He’s being detained, and there’s no reason because, as you mentioned, there’s been five years of delay. Assange and, and our legal team have been asking the Swedish prosecutor to come and question him. And after five years, after going through all the Swedish courts, after the prosecutor was admonished by the appeals court, and the Supreme Court of Sweden, the questioning still hasn’t happened.
So what we expect is, is typically with working group decisions there’s a, a plea for release, but also for compensation. And there has to be a remedy for the three and a half years that Assange has been stuck in the embassy fearing persecution and extradition to the United States.
PERIES: Carey, I understand that the Swedish are negotiating with the Ecuadorean officials, so who will question Assange and how that will take place, what do you know of that?
SHENKMAN: Well, the most recent news is that the prosecutor has still not been, not been adhering to her obligations under the new agreement between Sweden and Ecuador. That was news just within the past few weeks. But the, the big issue here is that we’re really at a point where enough is enough, that Assange must be released. He must be compensated.
In terms of, of the case, there’s really a, a growing consensus in Sweden, and now it appears internationally with the, with the working group’s engagement with this case, that enough is enough with this case. If you can’t detain someone for five years without being charged with a crime, there’s no, absolutely no justification for that. And now he needs urgent medical treatment. It’s not just Sweden that’s implicated, but it’s also the UK. The UK refuses to let Assange go to a hospital where he requires medical treatment. Both countries are basically saying you have to pick and choose whether you want to keep your asylum or whether you want to have your liberty. But international human rights doesn’t work that way. You shouldn’t have to pick and choose your rights like you’re at a store.
PERIES: Carey, how is Julian feeling, and is he feeling excited about the possible decision to release him?
SHENKMAN: Absolutely. I mean, he’s, he’s anticipating this, and we’ve all anticipated this for a long time. Like I said, it’s been a 16-month independent review of the case that’s taken into account all of the facts. That’s all that we’ve hoped for and wanted, is to have a process that has taken into account all the evidence independently that accords with international law. And for that we’re confident on our submissions, and we’re confident on our arguments that Assange is being arbitrarily detained.
PERIES: And are there any reaction on the part of the United States in terms of this potential release?
SHENKMAN: Well, the most recent news we have in the U.S. is that in December the Department of Justice and FBI confirmed the ongoing attempts to prosecute Assange. So there’s been a case ongoing for over five years now on account of publishing activities. So this is a prosecution in the United States of Assange for journalistic activity. It’s globally condemned, globally condemned by free speech organizations who say, okay, if you prosecute WikiLeaks and Assange, what happens to the rest of the media who regularly engage in the same journalistic process?
So that, that ongoing U.S. case is ultimately what this is about, and that’s what the asylum is about. It’s not about Sweden, it’s not about the UK. It’s about respecting that there is a war on whistleblowers in the United States, and those who publish and hold governments accountable are very often persecuted for that.
PERIES: All right, Carey, we look forward to hearing from you on Friday.
SHENKMAN: Thank you, Sharmini. Pleasure being here.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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