Template letter to Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
Open letter to Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
Dear Dr Reding,
On 5 December Julian Assange will seek leave to appeal his extradition to Sweden at the UK Supreme Court, which many commentators say is unlikely to be granted. The implications of this for European justice under the European Arrest Warrant system are alarming.
Julian Assange is being extradited at the behest of an investigating prosecutor – not a proper judicial authority – which subverts the intention of the British Parliament when drafting the 2003 Extradition Act – and without being charged, which goes against the intention of the Framework Directive itself. The EAW was never intended to be used for questioning or investigation. By law, the Swedish prosecutor cannot decide to prosecute until the end of the preliminary investigation.
Despite numerous requests to be questioned about the allegations, both while still in Sweden and by other means once in the UK, alternatives such as Mutual Legal Assistance were refused by the prosecutor. If Mr Assange can fall foul of such draconian – and frightening – prosecutorial overreach, then so can we all. How can European citizens have faith in a justice system that can do this to people? As you noted at the recent EU panel discussion ‘Time for Reform?’: “We all know that confidence in the application of the arrest warrant has been undermined.”
Neither has this case benefited from the proportionality checks in the Issuing State that you wish to see. The Svea Court appeal of 24 November, on which the recent High Court judgment relied heavily, was a rubber-stamp process for which English language translations were not provided and, it’s now been confirmed, defence lawyers were not even present (‘Problems with Riddle’s findings: Sundberg-Weitman’).
Millions of us across Europe have read the Swedish police prosecution case file available on the internet. We know of the many troubling aspects to this investigation and that the allegations and evidence are unlikely to survive scrutiny in a fair and proper trial. Justice Ouseley acknowledged at the original bail hearing in December: “The history of the way it [the case] has been dealt with by the Swedish prosecutors would give Mr Assange some basis that he might be acquitted following a trial”. In the latest ruling, the High Court judges hint (about the strongest allegation against Assange): “These are matters of evidence which would be highly relevant at trial. But it is not for this court to assess whether the allegations may fail.” (paragraph 125) However, Julian Assange is unlikely to receive a fair and proper trial in Sweden.
The Leveson Inquiry is currently investigating press standards in the UK and many victims of the phone-hacking scandal have come forward to describe the devastating impact of “trial by media” – even greater, of course, if what’s involved is your liberty and freedom. As a former journalist, you will recognise that the media climate in Sweden about this case is not conducive to a fair trial for Julian. In the UK such media behaviour would be deemed contempt of court. Prejudicial public remarks have also been made by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Justice Minister Beatrice Ask and Prosecutor General Anders Perklev.
Then there is the matter of “temporary surrender” for onward transfer of Mr Assange from Sweden to the USA, which would circumvent both the safeguards of a formal extradition process and the need for the UK’s agreement under the Framework Directive as the Surrendering State – as detailed in a letter to Kevin Rudd by Gareth Peirce, internationally respected human rights lawyer and Mr Assange’s brief in this case.
Back in June 2011 you felt that Gerard Batten MEP’s question about this issue was essentially a “what if” one as “there is nothing concrete on the table”. However, The Independent reported that informal, ‘back-room’ discussions between Sweden and the US about Julian Assange took place on 8 December 2010, the day after his voluntary arrest under the EAW. Please note also that the US Embassy in London declined to give a statement when asked directly about the use of temporary surrender by the Guardian newspaper. Sweden too has remained silent on the subject, although last month Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny raised the possibility that Assange could be extradited from Sweden to the US, expressing little qualm about it.
The conditions of Private Bradley Manning’s pre-trial detention at the Quantico base in Virginia have been widely condemned as tantamount to torture – including in an open letter signed by 54 MEPs – and the US administration has repeatedly blocked UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez from having unmonitored access to fulfil his mandate to investigate Private Manning’s treatment. Since the Wikileaks release of the Guantanamo files there is no denying the fact that the United States operates a torture regime.
In view of the above, will you:
§ Call for Fredrik Reinfeldt to make a clear and unequivocal statement that Sweden will NOT use the temporary surrender mechanism to transfer Julian Assange to the United States. Extradition from the UK should be blocked until such statement is issued.
§ Join Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg’s calls for Sweden to stop relying on “diplomatic assurances” regarding detainee transfers (Recommendation 5 of his Country Visit report).
§ Remind Sweden of its legal obligation under Article 19.2 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: “No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
§ Endorse the UK’s refusal to honour this EAW if Home Secretary Theresa May blocks Mr Assange’s extradition from the UK on the above grounds by virtue of her obligations under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, as you did Austria’s refusal of the EAW to extradite Mikhail Golovatov to Lithuania, where he is seen as responsible for the deaths of 14 people.
[name] [British/US/Australian citizen / Citizen of Europe]