Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly calls for Assange’s “prompt release”

  • Amendment to report on Threats to Media Freedom and Journalists’ Security in Europe prepared by Labour peer Lord Foulkes adopted unanimously
  • Foulkes tells the Assembly that he and his colleagues “don’t want to see Julian Assange extradited to the United States to spend centuries in prison”
  • Parliamentarians from across Europe will travel to London to monitor the extradition hearing next month

28 January 2020. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has called on member states to oppose the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States and resolve that “he must be promptly released.” Assange is fighting extradition to the United States in an unprecedented Espionage Act prosecution for journalistic activity. His extradition hearing opens at Woolwich Crown Court in London on 24 February 2020.

The call was made on Tuesday evening in a debate on Threats to Media Freedom and Journalists’ Security in Europe, which concluded with the formal adoption of a report prepared by British Labour peer Lord Foulkes

In his presentation to the Assembly, Lord Foulkes emphasised the importance of the Council of Europe’s Platform to Promote the Protection and Safety of Journalists. On 3 January, an urgent alert on the Assange case was submitted to the platform by the IFJ and EFJ. 

Foulkes told the Assembly that he was happy to accept an amendment on the Assange case because he and his colleagues on the PACE Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media “don’t want to see Julian Assange extradited to the United States to spend centuries in prison.”

The resolution passed unanimously by the Assembly calls on member states to foster a positive media environment and singles out the treatment of Mr Assange as a threat to media freedom:

“[Member states should] consider that the detention and criminal prosecution of Mr Julian Assange sets a dangerous precedent for journalists, and join the recommendation of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment who declared, on 1 November 2019, that Mr Assange’s extradition to the United States must be barred and that he must be promptly released.”

While the report has no binding force, it increases pressure on the British government to respond to international concerns about Assange. Since 22 September 2019, Assange has been detained in Belmarsh Prison solely for the purposes of the US extradition request. He was recently moved from Belmarsh’s medical wing, where he was held in isolation for over six months. In recent court appearances, Assange’s lawyers have complained about not being granted adequate access to their client. 

Andrej Hunko, member of the Bundestag and of the PACE said:

“After Brexit the United Kingdom will still be bound by the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court for Human Rights. They are the last guarantee for Julian Assange’s right to a fair trial and to the prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment that are threatened in the ongoing process and would be fundamentally infringed in case of an extradition to the US.”

In a PACE side-event on Monday, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer criticised the failure of the UK, US and Sweden to engage with his findings that Assange was showing all the symptoms of psychological torture. Regis Brillat of the European Commmittee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted that the use of isolation should be frequently reviewed and not used for long periods of time. Anthony Bellanger of the International Federation of Journalists and Assange’s father John Shipton also spoke at the meeting, which was hosted by Andrej Hunko.

Senator Gianni Marilotti, who leads the Italian Parliamentary Intergroup for monitoring the Assange case, told the meeting that:

“We should be surprised and in a certain way outraged by by the cautious silence kept by some states not only on Julian Assange’s situation but also on the facts revealed by him through Wikileaks’ work.

“This silence seems to authorise or support the US and the United Kingdom’s behaviour in relation to an individual who is apparently deprived of the right to prepare his defence as well of his right to dignified psychological and physical conditions.”

More than 25 elected representatives from across Europe have already resolved to monitor the extradition proceedings and delegations from Germany, Italy and the European Parliament will travel to London next month.

Julian Assange has been charged in the Eastern District of Virginia with 17 counts under the 1917 Espionage Act, all related to WikiLeaks publications of 2010-11. He also faces a further conspiracy charge related to journalist-source communications. EDVA is a judicial district located in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area.

Side event at the Council of Europe, 27 January 2020