20:03 GMT04 July 2020
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    A top UN official has accused the UK and US of torturing whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange in an attempt to hold the two governments accountable, independent journalist Diani Baretto told Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear Thursday.

    In one of the two statements, which was written in November but only released publicly this week, Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, wrote that Manning - who is currently being held in an Alexandria, Virginia, jail for not testifying before a grand jury investigating Assange - is undergoing “open-ended, progressively severe measure of coercion fulfilling all the constitutive elements of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” 

    In a second statement written in October, Melzer noted that Assange, the WikiLeaks co-founder who is currently detained in London’s Belmarsh Prison, is being subjected to “severe mental and emotional suffering which, in light of the circumstances, clearly amounts to psychological torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

    Despite the seriousness of Melzer’s statements, media coverage regarding them has been limited.

    “Sadly, in the UK there is hardly any coverage of this,” Baretto told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

    “There were two letters sent from the High Office, the UN Human Rights [Office]. This one was sent in November, for example, was only released on Tuesday … and [in] this message, Manning, for example, is being subjected to an open-ended, progressively severe measure of coercion by refusing to testify … and of course, [there’s] also the financial aspect of financially ruining her by facing fines running at $1,000 a day” for as long as she does not comply with the grand jury summons, Baretto told Sputnik.

    “This is very, very significant,” she continued, pointing out that the US and UK are both signatories of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 34/19, and the conditions in which Manning and Assange are being held mean both countries “are not complying with their human rights obligations.” 

    In March, Manning’s lawyers called her detention “pointless, punitive, and cruel,” noting that the former US Army intelligence analyst is unlikely to change her mind about testifying against Assange.

    “Chelsea has clearly stated her moral objection to the secretive and oppressive grand jury process. We are Chelsea’s friends and fellow organizers, and we know her as a person who is fully committed to her principles,” Manning’s lawyers wrote in a letter in March.

    Manning, an ex-US Army intelligence analyst, was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2010 for providing hundreds of thousands of military intelligence records to WikiLeaks. She was released from prison in May 2017, having served seven years of her term, after then-US President Barack Obama commuted her sentence. 

    The documents she provided to WikiLeaks included incident reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and dossiers on prisoners being held without trial at the US’ Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. She was sent back to jail in March 2019 when a federal judge found her in contempt of court for refusing to respond to any and all questions before a grand jury, after she was subpoenaed to testify in the case against Assange.

    Meanwhile, Assange was holed up inside the London-based Ecuadorian Embassy from 2012 until April 2019 - when he was arrested after the Ecuadorian government terminated his asylum - for fear of arrest and extradition to the US on rumored charges against him there. The US government indicted Assange on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 in a court document unsealed the following month. Assange is scheduled to appear in a British court in February, where the court will determine whether he will be extradited to the US.

    On November 22, 2019, more than 60 medical professionals wrote an open letter to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel expressing their “grave concern” that Assange could die from “deliberate medical negligence,” calling the UK government’s behavior “incompatible with medical ethics and unworthy of a democratic society bound by the rule of law.” 

    “[Assange’s] solitary confinement … of up to 22 hours a day … also constitutes torture,” Baretto told Sputnik, noting that due to “bias by the courts in the UK,” he is not getting a chance at a fair trial. Baretto also referred to Melzer’s statements as “a very diplomatic, strong statement” trying to hold the US and UK governments accountable.

    “The UK is undermining due process and the belief in the rule of law,” Baretto added. 

    “Do they [the US and UK governments] want to see him broken, die in prison under this distress or not be able to prepare his defense, which would then make it easier for them to prosecute him?” Baretto said regarding Assange. 

    “This is clearly a political prosecution here and this is clearly also in violation of human law that you cannot be extradited under political crimes,” she continued, adding that as a journalist, she is concerned that this might be the beginning of a “new era” in which publishers and journalists can be criminally prosecuted for releasing factual information.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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