UN torture expert warns over Assange extradition to US

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen as he leaves a police station in London, Britain April 11, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 12 April 2019

UN torture expert warns over Assange extradition to US

EVILARD, Switzerland: Julian Assange is not guaranteed a fair trial in the United States, a UN rights expert told AFP Friday, questioning the US justice system’s credibility in national security cases.
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Nils Melzer, also said that the manner in which Ecuador terminated Assange’s diplomatic protection broke international norms.
But Melzer made clear that his greatest concerns for the WikiLeaks founder — arrested by British police on Thursday after spending almost seven years in Ecuador’s London embassy — stem from Assange’s possible extradition to the US.
“I’m worried about fair trial,” said Melzer, one of several UN rapporteurs active on the Assange case.
“I’m worried that he might be exposed to (the) detention practices of the United States, which in part are very problematic,” he added.
“The United States in the last decade unfortunately has not proven to be a safe state with regard to the provision of torture in cases that involve national security,” Melzer added.
Melzer has previously raised alarm about alleged torture in the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, as well as over the use of waterboarding, which President Donald Trump has labelled an effective interrogation technique.
The US request to extradite Assange is set to be heard in British court on May 2.
US officials have unsealed an indictment against him for computer hacking as part of his WikiLeaks whistleblowing activities.
But Melzer echoed concerns that the US charge sheet could be expanded, especially if the Justice Department gets Assange on US soil.
The UN expert argued that regardless of one’s personal view of Assange, “from a human rights perspective, he was basically doing the same thing that investigative journalists do all over the world,” by publishing information that states try to conceal.
The national security implications of the charges, combined with the fact that the US practices the death penalty, is “obviously a very serious concern,” the UN expert further said.
Turning to the arrest, Melzer conceded that “theoretically” Ecuador had the right to terminate Assange’s protection and strip his citizenship.
“But in a state that is governed by the rule of law, these types of steps are to be taken in a procedure that is subject to legal remedies and appeals,” added Melzer, a Swiss national who also teaches international law at the University of Glasgow.
The “shortcuts” taken in the run up to the arrest are “very, very problematic,” he said.
“The rule of law is not being respected.”
Melzer, like all UN special rapporteurs, is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council who does not speak for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Guterres’s top human rights official, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, has not condemned the arrest.
Bachelet’s spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, told reporters in Geneva on Friday that the high commissioner expects “all relevant authorities to ensure that Mr. Assange’s right to a fair trial is upheld.”


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.