The UN rapporteur against torture Nils Melzer on Tuesday called on the British authorities for the immediate release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, following a serious COVID-19 outbreak in the prison where he is located.
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The rapporteur noted that 65 of the 160 inmates at London's Belmarsh Prison, where Assange has been held since May 2019, have tested positive for COVID-19.
"Assange is not convicted or threatens anyone. Therefore, his prolonged and solitary confinement, in a high-security prison, is neither necessary nor proportionate and lacks any legal basis," Melzer said.
The rapporteur recalled that his initial arrest in December 2010 was based on allegations of alleged sex crimes in Sweden, which were eventually withdrawn due to lack of evidence.
So now his detention is purely preventive, while his possible extradition to the United States is processed, something that could take years.
The ten years of deprivation of liberty —including seven that he spent as a refugee at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London— "are not only arbitrary detention but can also involve torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," the United Nations expert stressed.
Besides recalling that Assange suffers from previous respiratory ailments that make him especially vulnerable to COVID-19, Melzer mentioned that many prisons around the world have taken prison population reduction measures to prevent outbreaks.
The rapporteur also asked the United Kingdom not to extradite Assange to the United States because of the doubts that a legal possible process in that country raises regarding human rights.