2010-2019 | Torture

UN expert – the UK has subjected Assange to ‘psychological torture’

A Free Assange protest - Ricardo Patino - CC BY-SA 2.0 - via Flickr.
A Free Assange protest – Ricardo Patino – CC BY-SA 2.0 – via Flickr.

31 May 2019

On 31 May 1919, Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, accused Britain and the United States of subjecting Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to ‘psychological torture’ over a prolonged period. He added that ‘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.’1 Assange was facing life imprisonment in the United States for publishing information exposing how Washington had resorted to war crimes, assassinations and other rogue methods to maintain its global hegemony. Since the summer of 2012 he had been cooped up in a small section of the Ecuadorian embassy until, under relentless diplomatic pressure from America, the Ecuadorian government had agreed to surrender him to British police on 11 April 2019.

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, lashed out at the UN official’s intervention, tweeting that Assange ‘was always free to leave and face justice.’2 Melzer promptly responded with a courteous reproach: ‘With all due respect, Sir: Mr Assange was about as “free to leave” as someone sitting on a rubber boat in  a shark pool. As detailed in my letter to you, so far, UK courts have not shown the impartiality and objectivity required by the rule of law.’3 He commented earlier that he had visited Assange at Belmarsh Prison in south east London on 9 May, along with two medical experts specialised in interviewing possible torture victims. They had found  ‘overwhelming’ evidence that Assange had 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.’4

Melzer informed the Washington Post that he hadn’t previously wanted to be involved as he was ‘no fan of Wikileaks and considered its founder a bad actor,’ but was now shocked both by the circumstances of his case and the state he found him in. He explained that ‘there had been a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation against Mr. Assange, not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden and, more recently, Ecuador,’ adding that ‘in 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.’5


  1. Nils Melzer cited in ‘UN expert says Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is being subjected to drawn-out “psychological torture,”‘ The South China Morning Post, 31 May 2019 accessed online at url https://www.scmp.com/news/world/europe/article/3012647/un-expert-says-wikileaks-founder-julian-assange-being-subjected
  2. Tweet by Jeremy Hunt cited in ‘Julian Assange subjected to psychological torture, UN expert says,’ 31 May 2019 accessed online at url https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-48473898
  3. Tweet by Nils Melzer cited in ‘Julian Assange subjected to psychological torture, UN expert says,’ 31 May 2019 accessed online at url https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-48473898
  4. Niles Melzer cited in Lizzie Dearden, ‘Julian Assange has been ‘psychologically tortured’ and must not be extradited to US, says UN expert,’ The Independent, 31 May 2019 accessed online at url https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/julian-assange-health-torture-prison-extradition-belmarsh-un-wikileaks-a8938561tml
  5. Nils Melzer cited in Isaac Stanley-Becker and William Booth, ‘U.N. official says Julian Assange is a victim of ‘psychological torture,’ warns against U.S. extradition,’ The Washington Post, 31 May 2019 accessed at url https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/un-official-says-assange-is-a-victim-ofpsychological-torture-warns-against-extradition-to-the-us/2019/05/31/cca722e0-5f84-11e9-bf24-db4b9fb62aa2_story.html?utm_term=.f79468ee8a3e

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