Treatment of Assange putting his life ‘at risk’: UN expert

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is driven out of Southwark Crown Court in London, after having been sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions in 2012. (AFP)
Updated 01 November 2019

Treatment of Assange putting his life ‘at risk’: UN expert

  • Nils Melzer: ‘Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life’
  • Assange is facing an extradition request by the US over charges he violated the US Espionage Act by publishing a huge cache of military and diplomatic files in 2010

GENEVA: The treatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is facing the threat of extradition from Britain to the US on espionage charges, is putting his life “at risk,” an independent UN rights expert said Friday.
“Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life,” the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Nils Melzer, said in a statement.
Melzer, who visited the 48-year-old Australian whistleblower in a London prison on May 9, nearly a month after his arrest at Ecuador’s embassy where he had been holed up for seven years, has previously warned he was being subjected to drawn-out “psychological torture.”
A spokesperson told AFP that the independent expert, who does not speak on behalf of the United Nations, had not met Assange since then but had received “updates” about his condition.
Friday’s statement warned that Assange’s health had continued to deteriorate since his arrest, stressing that “his life was now at risk.”
In the statement, Melzer pointed out that in May he had demanded immediate measures to protect the WikiLeaks founder’s health and dignity.
“However, what we have seen from the UK Government is outright contempt for Mr. Assange’s rights and integrity,” he said.
“Despite the medical urgency of my appeal, and the seriousness of the alleged violations, the UK has not undertaken any measures of investigation, prevention and redress required under international law,” he charged.
Assange “continues to be detained under oppressive conditions of isolation and surveillance, not justified by his detention status,” he said.
His statement pointed out that Assange had completed his prison sentence for violating his British bail terms in 2012 and was now “being held exclusively in relation to the pending extradition request from the United States.”
Assange is facing the extradition request by the US over charges he violated the US Espionage Act by publishing a huge cache of military and diplomatic files in 2010.
“While the US Government prosecutes Mr. Assange for publishing information about serious human rights violations, including torture and murder, the officials responsible for these crimes continue to enjoy impunity,” Melzer said.
He also decried that “despite the complexity of the proceedings against him led by the world’s most powerful Government, Mr. Assange’s access to legal counsel and documents has been severely obstructed.”
This, he said, had effectively undermined “his most fundamental right to prepare his defense.”
In his appeal, Melzer urged London to bar Assange’s extradition to the US, and demanded that “he be promptly released and allowed to recover his health and rebuild his personal and professional life.”


Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

Updated 15 November 2019

Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

  • The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s tourists
  • Apsara authority plans to end the elephant rides by 2020
PHNOM PENH: Cambodia will ban all elephant rides at the country’s famed Angkor temple park by early next year, an official said Friday, a rare win for conservationists who have long decried the popular practice as cruel.
The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s foreign tourists — which topped six million in 2018 — and many opt for elephants rides around the ancient temples.
But these rides “will end by the start of 2020,” said Long Kosal, a spokesman with the Apsara Authority, which manages the park.
“Using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore,” he told AFP, adding that some of the animals were “already old.”
So far, five of the 14 working elephants have been transferred to a community forest about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the temples.
“They will live out their natural lives there,” Kosal said.
The company that owns the elephants will continue to look after them, he added.
Cambodia has long come under fire from animal rights groups for ubiquitous elephant rides on offer for tourists, also seen in neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
The elephants are broken in during training and rights groups have accused handlers of overworking them.
In 2016, a female elephant died by the roadside after carrying tourists around the Angkor Wat temple complex in severely hot weather.
The animal had been working for around 45 minutes before she collapsed.