A UN torture expert has issued a blistering account of the treatment meted out to Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder suffers from physical and mental health issues from years of isolation.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been subjected to "psychological torture" as a result of years of isolation and persecution, a UN human rights expert said Friday.
Nils Melzer, the UN rapporteur on torture, visited Assange in a British prison on May 9 accompanied by two medical experts specialized in examining torture victims.
"It was obvious that Mr. Assange's health has been seriously affected by the extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he has been exposed to for many years," said Melzer. "Most importantly, in addition to physical ailments, Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.
"The evidence is overwhelming and clear," the independent expert said. "Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture."
In April, the 47-year old Australian was arrested at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he sought refuge in 2012 after Sweden sought his extradition on sexual assault charges.
Assange is currently serving a 50-week sentence at London's Belmarsh prison for skipping bail. On Thursday, his lawyer said the Wikileaks founder was in too poor of health to appear at a British courthearing on a US extradition request, even via a video link from prison. He is currently in the prison health ward.
Sweden has since reopened an investigation into an alleged rape in 2010.
The United States is seeking Assange's extradition for charges of violating the US Espionage Act when in 2010 he released a huge cache of classified information. Assange said his work is journalistic and numerous media outlets have used Wikileaks documents.
"Since 2010, when Wikileaks started publishing evidence of war crimes and torture committed by US forces, we have seen a sustained and concerted effort by several states towards getting Mr. Assange extradited to the United States for prosecution, raising serious concern over the criminalization of investigative journalism in violation of both the US Constitution and international human rights law," Melzer said.
"My most urgent concern is that, in the United States, Mr. Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," the Swiss law professor said.
Melzer said he also worried that the charges against Assange carry a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
"This may well result in a life sentence without parole, or possibly even the death penalty if further charges were to be added in the future," said Melzer.
In addition to the United States, Melzer accused the United Kingdom, Sweden and Ecuador of "ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual" for years.