UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy conducts visit to Julian Assange and Doughty Street Chambers

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Professor Joe Cannataci, has today conducted an official visit with Julian Assange at Belmarsh prison. As part of the official UN visit, the delegation also met with Jennifer Robinson at Doughty Street Chambers, counsel for Mr Assange.

Mr Assange had raised concerns with violations of his right to privacy inside the embassy of Ecuador given the level of surveillance he was under, including of his legal meetings with Ms Robinson and other members of his international legal team.

The UN announced on 5 April that the UN Special Rapporteur had the agreement of Ecuador to visit Mr Assange in the embassy on 25 April to “help determine if there exists a prima facie case of violation of privacy that warrants further investigation.” The announcement made clear that the UN Special Rapporteur had received “assurances from the Government of Ecuador that it will facilitate his visit to the country’s embassy in London.”

On 10 April, WikiLeaks announced it had proof of the extent of surveillance and interference with the right to privacy inside the embassy, which included the recording of visits by his lawyers, including the copying of their notes, as well as recording visits of his doctors. This was reported widely around the world (see, for example, here, here, here and here).

The next day, on 11 April, Mr Assange was forcefully removed from the embassy by British police after the Ambassador notified him his asylum had been revoked and invited the police inside the embassy. Mr Assange was arrested on a warrant for breach of bail, but was subsequently served with a provisional extradition request from the United States. He was brought before Westminster Magistrates’ Court and convicted for breaching the terms of bail. He was sent to Belmarsh prison, pending sentencing in the bail matter before the Crown Court and the commencement of the US extradition proceedings.

Following his imprisonment, the UN contacted the British ambassador to the UN, Julian Braithwaite, to arrange to visit Mr Assange in prison.

The UN Special Rapporteur said yesterday:

“I am glad to confirm, as indicated on my statement issued on 5 April, that I will visit Mr. Julian Assange tomorrow (25 April), at HM Prison Belmarsh, in London. I had made arrangements to visit Mr. Assange at the Embassy of Ecuador on the same date, but, after his arrest on 11 April, I sought and obtained the approval of the United Kingdom Government to interview him in custody. The objective of my visit is to assess allegations of possible violations against Mr. Assange’s right to privacy. Any concern that I may have as a result of my assessment will be brought to the attention of the relevant Government(s) in order to seek clarification and make recommendations for remedial action. I may also express my concern publicly if the matters warrant immediate attention.”

Ms Robinson said:

"We welcome the continued engagement of the United Nations Special Mechanisms in Mr Assange's case. It is a matter of grave concern that Ecuador expelled Mr Assange from the embassy before the scheduled UN visit could take place. We are grateful to the UN Special Rapporteur, Professor Cannataci, for arranging for the visit to take place at Belmarsh prison."

The visit was conducted in prison this morning and was followed by a visit to Doughty Street Chambers. Ms Robinson has filed a formal request to the UN Special Rapporteur to investigate Mr Assange’s case and the international legal team continues to liaise with relevant UN Special Mechanisms. A request has also been made for a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled in late 2015 that Mr Assange was arbitrarily detained, as a result of having to remain in the embassy to protect himself from US extradition, and called for his release. In December 2018, a joint statement of UN experts said:

“In addition, the recommendations of the WGAD Opinions are expected to be implemented by all States, including those which have not been a party in the case concerning Mr. Assange…It is time that Mr. Assange, who has already paid a high price for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of opinion, expression and information, and to promote the right to truth in the public interest, recovers his freedom.”