Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, a globally respected professor of international law, especially human rights, has an “urgent appeal.” Through his book entitled The Trial of Julian Assange, he hopes to wake the world up to what he calls “compelling evidence of political persecution and gross judicial arbitrariness, as well as of deliberate torture and ill-treatment” of the WikiLeaks founder for over a decade by not one but four different world powers, so-called mature democracies of the Global West — the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Ecuador.
Melzer’s book, published by Verso Books and Penguin Random House, comes at a crucial time; just before the notorious British Home Secretary Priti Patel decides on Assange’s extradition to the United States, in what seems to be practically a foregone conclusion. The Trial of Julian Assange, harking back to Franz Kafka’s The Trial, is a visceral account of not just how Assange has been “persecuted and abused for exposing the dirty secrets of the powerful, including war crimes, torture and corruption”, but also “a story of deliberate judicial arbitrariness in Western democracies that are otherwise keen to present themselves as exemplary in the area of human rights”.
Melzer shows how the Assange case is one of “wilful collusion by intelligence services … manipulative reporting in the mainstream media for the purpose of deliberately isolating, demonising and destroying a particular individual”. Melzer even says that the book had to be written as a last resort since even an impartial observer and investigator such as he, much like the victim, Assange, “had run out of viable options within the system, and because silence or inaction would have been tantamount to complicity in the cover-up of serious crimes, both those exposed by Assange and those committed against him, and thus, against all of us”.
Assange, who faces extradition to the United States where he’s sure to be convicted of the 18 charges carrying a sentence of an astounding 175 years in solitary confinement in a US maximum security prison, is currently lodged in the so-called ‘Guantanamo Bay of Britain’, London’s top-security Belmarsh prison, a veritable fortress for criminals and terrorists convicted of most heinous crimes. Assange, however, has been withering within the Belmarsh prison for merely flouting a bail order, that too when he was an asylum seeker housed in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since he feared stepping out of the embassy would mean sure-short extradition to the US, and consequently, gruesome physical and psychological torture, and even perhaps execution through sham trials.
The 18 charges against Assange pertain to his eye-opening “Collateral Murder” video of 2010 and a tranche of leaked official documents obtained from the whistle-blower Chelsea Manning that expose war crimes committed by members of American and British forces occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, for which absolutely not a single head has rolled. Denial and whitewashing of the war crimes and retaining impunity as the status quo has been the official position.
Melzer unspools the labyrinthine maze that is the case against Assange, starting with the “rape” allegations in Sweden which never moved beyond the preliminary investigations, and for which Assange has never been questioned even though he had always showed willingness to be grilled via video calls. However, he steadfastly refused to be extradited to Sweden to face any questioning, since he was acutely aware of Stockholm being merely a stop-over, and the authorities ready to hand him over to Washington. In fact, Melzer underlines how what started off as the two Swedish women merely wanting Assange to have an HIV test and seeking police help to simply force his hands, became within ten minutes of one entering a police station in Stockholm a registered case of rape, with the public prosecutor on an overdrive at an alarmingly early stage. Crucially, several text messages that the woman, referred to as “S”, sent to her friend from the police station supposedly to indicate her discomfort at the turn of events, have been redacted. Melzer repeatedly stresses how he ensured to cross-check every claim and detail by countless witnesses and over 10,000 pages of procedural papers, witness statements, and more, so as to be truthful and not manipulated by the vagaries of official claims, counter-claims, “soft harassment” and outright intimidation, in addition to stonewalling his requests to interview or discuss the implications of Assange’s case.
Melzer notes how he himself had fallen prey to the sophisticated campaign of misinformation and demonization of Assange, when in December 2018 he had dismissed a request of help from Assange’s legal team since he wanted nothing to do with the “hacker, rapist, narcissist”. Yet, once he took a careful look at the documents provided a few months later, while also carefully perusing the 2015 report on Assange’s case by his own colleagues with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, he was shocked beyond senses at the extent of the multi-governmental plot against a man whom his friends and supporters call a gentle soul with a touch of Asperger’s syndrome. As he met Assange in Belmarsh prison, Melzer found strong indications of acute psychological torture, the consequence of prolonged incarceration and fear of further persecution by the entire might of the gargantuan security apparatus of the most powerful country in the world, the United States of America.
From the collusion of the global mainstream media in what Melzer calls the “public mobbing” of Assange, to the serial judicial arbitrariness and institutional failure to uphold the rule of law, the persecution of the WikiLeaks founder has eerie similarities to what transpired in the hounding and blatantly unlawful incarceration under equally trumped up charges of India’s Bhima-Koregaon’s UAPA accused, especially those still denied bail, such as Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Fereira, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, among others. The devastatingly fatal consequence for the 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, who was denied a sippy cup from which to have water even though he suffered from Parkinson’s disease which made his hands unsteady, was not lost on any one, but created little public furor beyond the usual and rather truncated circuits of independent media and civil rights activists. Though Sudha Bharadwaj is out on bail after more than three years of unjust incarceration during which she suffered myriad health issues, the permanent bail plea of the poet Vara Vara Rao, now out on bail on medical grounds, and seven others in the case, has been rejected recently by Bombay High Court.
Chilling similarity can also be found in how the peaceful protesters involved in anti-CAA/NRC movement and those organizing help for the victims in the Delhi 2020 anti-Muslim violence, including Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi, Gulfisha Fatima, have been jailed and repeatedly denied bail in mind-boggling judicial somersaults spanning lower to high courts. Notably, Umar Khalid’s famous lines saying “we will not respond to hate with hate, we will respond with love when faced with hate” has been construed, unnervingly enough, as an instance of his criminal complicity in the array of ludicrous crimes he’s charged with. Even the journalist Siddique Kappan — who travelled from his home state Kerala to Hathras, Uttar Pradesh to cover the rape and murder of a Dalit teenager by upper caste men and the police ‘cover-up’ that followed, including a hasty midnight funeral of the body to prevent forensic analysis — was quickly arrested and charged with UAPA, and has been in jail ever since.
Assange’s case, as Melzer carefully delineates, is a glaring beacon of institutional miscarriage of justice involving unpardonable complicity from multiple national jurisdictions all too willing to fall in line with the Anglo-American global security state, whose sanctity the transparency activist challenged with his revelations striking at the heart of darkness. Hence, through highly-orchestrated and relentless barrage of propaganda willingly carried out by a compliant mass media, Assange was transformed in the public eye from a feral prophet of radical transparency to a shady villain, a filthy rapist, a blabbering deranged narcissist evading justice who was dragged out of his hole when he was suddenly arrested in April 2019.
The goal, it is obvious, was never to have a fair trial, since doing that would be tantamount to implicating themselves in the very crimes that Assange had shed light on through his publication of the leaked materials in 2010, including the harrowing video of daylight murder of non-combatants by the US security personnel aboard the Apache attack helicopter. The project, instead, has always been about teaching Assange a lesson, and therefore also to his supporters and emulators of fearless journalism, about silencing him through a web of complex allegations and procedural arbitrariness putting him away, out of public sight and memory forever, deleting his important revolutionary voice from the public sphere. The same playbook applies when Umar Khalid and others are portrayed as virulent “anti-nationals”, communal plotters against the integrity of India and Indians, by the Indian mass media that does the bidding of the Hindutva security state. And just like Assange, these incarcerated men and women, though battered physically and mentally, show exemplary resilience, strength of character, above-par intelligence and a steely resolve to fight for our common constitutional ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity till their very last breath.
The story is a collaboration between India Press Agency and Newsclick.