21st Century Wire
By now, it has been well-documented how the UK police, prosecuting services, courts and prisons have squandered untold public resources on one individual who had skipped a police bail order seven years ago. Search a little deeper and we see countless precedents have been set in the wake of a hunting expedition that is now slowly killing a journalist who exposed the crimes of powerful states. The abuse of power continues, with the recent attempt to block a Spanish judge from interviewing Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, which clearly demonstrates that the United Kingdom Central Authority (UKCA) is continuing the state’s assault on Assange as he fights extradition to the United States for exposing its war crimes.
According to the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais, the UKCA has provisionally denied a request by a Spanish judge to question Assange about allegations that the Spanish security firm Undercover Global S.L spied on him while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Judge Jose de la Mata has asked to interview Assange via video link and has issued a European Investigation Order (EIO). The case concerns the role of David Morales, director of the security firm, accused of passing surveillance material, including surveillance of Assange’s confidential meetings with his lawyers, directly to the CIA.
Some of the alleged grounds for refusal by UK authorities to cooperate, are that UK police carry out these types of interviews, that videoconferencing is not available to hear witness statements, and that the jurisdiction is unclear. El Pais points out that the British response is unprecedented in these types of requests for standard judicial collaboration.
The implications of CIA involvement in spying on Assange were made clear by Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, at Assange’s court hearing on 21st October, when he stated:
“The American state has been actively engaged in intruding on privileged discussions between Mr Assange and his lawyer.”
Such a violation of Assange’s rights should be enough to end the US extradition attempt. The refusal by the UK to comply in what should be a standard procedure can therefore be viewed as an attempt to protect the ability of the US to extradite him. The dismissal by magistrate Vanessa Baraitser of Summers’ plea to allow more time to prepare for Assange’s February extradition hearing, given the significance of the Spanish case, is a further demonstration that the UK has a predetermined set agenda. In this instance, US violations of human rights and law will not be allowed to get in the way of extradition, to which end Assange is being denied due process and the ability to defend himself inside the UK.
If we want further proof of a biased and politically driven UK agenda regarding the treatment of Assange, we can draw upon the different ways the UK responds to requests from states depending on whether the requests are expected to result in his criminalisation and end, or in his vindication and freedom.
With this in mind, how does the UK’s response to De la Mata compare to its responses to the Swedish Prosecution Authority (SPA), and how is the UK likely to respond should the SPA revive its investigation again and issue a European Investigation Order to interview Assange?
UK collaboration: Sweden
In May the SPA reopened the sexual allegations case against Assange for the third time. The Deputy Chief Prosecutor, Eva-Marie Persson, despite claiming in July that it was not on the cards to interview Assange, attempted to have him detained in order to start an extradition process to Sweden from the UK. Her move was rejected by a Swedish court in June, on the basis it was ‘disproportionate.’ Persson’s latest statement was released on the SPA website on 9th September:
‘“During the summer, we have conducted interviews intended to verify the evidence, as nine years have passed since the suspected crime. We have concentrated on the inquiries possible to conduct here in Sweden. The interviews are now being transcribed and analysed. We have mainly re-interviewed those individuals who were interviewed in 2010, although two of the persons interviewed have not previously been interviewed,” says Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Eva-Marie Persson.
“Once we have analysed the interviews, I will decide how to proceed with the case. The investigation may then be discontinued or I may decide to conduct further inquiries. If I make the assessment that the next step is to interview Julian Assange, I will issue a European Investigation Order, in which case I shall write to the British authorities with a request to conduct an interview,”’
Such steps to conduct an interview were appropriate in 2010. It was the SPA’s obstructive delaying and failure to bring any investigation forward while holding a European Arrest Warrant over him that formed part of the 2015 United Nation Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNGWAD) decision that Assange was being held in arbitrary detention.
It has been shown, through freedom of information requests made by journalist Stefania Maurizi of La Repubblica, that a principle reason behind the delay by the Swedish prosecutors was the resistance by the UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), over a period of years, to Assange being questioned inside the UK and its insistence, instead, that he should be extradited to Sweden. The following passage was published by Maurizi in 2017:
‘The emails provided by SPA leave no room for doubt that the CPS advised Ny against questioning Assange in London from the very start: “My earlier advice remains, that in my view it would not be prudent for the Swedish authorities to try to interview the defendant in the UK”, CPS lawyer Paul Close wrote to Ny…’
Maurizi’s findings show that the UK authorities resisted standard practice, and instead pressed for extradition. This was despite the fact that extradition for interview was disproportionate and excessive, as explained by the global criminal justice watch dog Fair Trials in 2010, and that other proper and normal approaches for interviewing the subject were available, including travel to the UK by the SPA (a common practice), or the use of a video link. However, the law was changed in 2014 to bar extradition if there is no prosecution decision in the requesting country, but Assange’s warrant was kept going.
Only after a Swedish appeals court criticised the SPA in 2015 for its lack of progress did it agree to interview Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and it was the SPA that interviewed him; the interview was not conducted by the British police. The case was then dropped.
In stark contrast to the way it applied procedure while collaborating with the SPA, the UK authorities now claim it is the role of the police to conduct interviews, and therefore access to Assange by De la Mata has been blocked. This is despite the fact the ability of De la Mata to interview Assange through video conference is shown under law enforced in the UK in 2017. What must be recognised is that the lack of standard interview practice in 2010, and the insistence of police interview to block De la Mata now in 2019, are both by design: this arbitrary application of procedures denied Assange due process in 2010, and it is designed to do so again in 2019.
Perhaps the most vivid example of the UK’s bias when it comes to enabling the Swedish authorities was provided by Hugo Swire, UK Minister of State in 2014 when Marianne Nye was Sweden’s chief prosecutor:
“…if she [Marianne Ny] wishes to travel here to question Mr. Assange in the embassy in London, we would do absolutely everything to facilitate that, indeed, we would actively welcome it”
European Investigation Order: A very Swedish outcome
Every step taken by the SPA against Assange has been accompanied by a media extravaganza and showcased across continents. Despite all this, to date it has never amounted to anything more than continued allegations hanging over him, enabling a smear campaign to continue, along with the alienation of potential political allies who may otherwise rally in his defence against extradition to the US for what are spurious charges.
Since reopening the case and being prevented from extraditing Assange, Persson has stated that if Assange were to be interviewed again, she would issue a European Investigation Order. She has indicated that she may be the one interviewing Assange in person. Likewise, she has said she might interview him via videolink. According to El Pais, De la Mata has indicated that the only obstacle in using a videolink would be if the person being questioned were the accused. As Assange is the witness in this case and not the accused it is a simpler process. This means therefore that it is in fact simpler for De la Mata to interview Assange than it is for Persson. According to the 2017 legislation, she would require his consent prior to interview, a fact clearly identified by the SPA.
The question now arises: would the UKCA, responsible for processing the investigation orders, place hurdles in front of Sweden’s Deputy Director of Public Prosecution, Eva-Marie Persson? Or might Persson receive warm UK cooperation and be accompanied by a posse of the world’s media and flashing cameras all the way up to the iron gates of Belmarsh – were the SPA to ever issue a European Investigation Order?
UK resistance: Spain
In contrast to its historical collaboration with the SPA, the UK authorities have so far blocked a request from Spain for Assange’s participation in a case that is undoubtedly crucial to his current US extradition fight. In other words, where Assange is concerned the UK authorities are applying procedures arbitrarily and exceptionally, all the while protecting US ability to extradite him, while closing down avenues to justice supposedly protected by human rights and UK law.
It is essential to recognise that inside Belmarsh prison Assange is being denied the very basic rights he is due under international law and UK legislation for prisoners; effectively denied access to justice.
In addition to this, British authorities appear to disregarding a crucial human rights provision, as stipulated in Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007, which bars any extradition for a political offense. Numerous high-profile advocates have argued that the basis of Assange’s detention is by definition of a political nature, and therefore his detention is unlawful under the US-UK treaty.
Article 4 of the Extradition Treaty between the UK and the USA states that: “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.”
So why the hell is #JulianAssange behind bars pending extradition to the US? 1/5
The comments by the UKCA also demonstrate contempt for those who operate outside British establishment narratives. It is not the first time the UK authorities have cut down authorities interested in Assange’s legal rights. UK officials undermined the UNWGAD following the release of its decision. At Assange’s sentencing hearing in May in Southwark Crown Court, Judge Deborah Taylor made a series of mistakes, including referring to rape charges in Sweden (which Assange corrected and which she acknowledged as wrong) while at the same time claiming the decision of the UNGWAD was “…underpinned by misconceptions of fact and law.”
What this really demonstrates is that even at the highest levels of the British judiciary, key decision makers do not appear to have a full grasp of this case, and perhaps even less its many historic implications.
De la Mata, like the UN human rights experts who risk the wrath of rogue governments when they dare to challenge or question them, is being told to eat a slice of British lawlessness. But his pursuit of access to Assange will be supported by those demanding an end to the violation of Assange’s human rights and his denial of due process inside the UK.
Despite all of this, it is still not too late for the British justice system to reassess its position, and come down on the side of due process, human rights, and protection the free press.
Author Nina Cross is an independent writer and researcher, and contributor to 21WIRE. To see more of her work, visit Nina’s archive.