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The Assange case and the UK’s global defence of media freedom

Published on April 15, 2019        Author: 
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Human rights advocates often point to the lack of consistency and coherence between states’ stated commitments, on the one hand, and their actions, on the other. Even then, the tensions surrounding the UK’s recent approach to the goal of protecting media freedom globally and its projection seem striking.

Within less than a week, the UK government has gone from showcasing its new campaign to defend media freedom – specifically the appointment of the Foreign Secretary’s Special Envoy and a panel of legal experts “to support countries to repeal outdated and draconian laws and strengthen legal mechanisms to protect journalists”, as well as an international conference to be held in London on 10 and 11 July, co-hosted with the Canadian government (on 5 April) – to facing a chorus of warnings from wide range of human rights organisations, authorities and activists  – including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Knight First Amendment Institute, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg – that the UK’s possible extradition of Julian Assange to the United States to face, at the moment, a single charge of conspiracy “to commit computer intrusion” would pose a threat the lawful and legitimate activity of journalists, especially their communications with their sources, setting a “dangerous precedent” for the future prosecution of “legacy” news media organisations.

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Julian Assange arrested in London; Omar al-Bashir being deposed

Published on April 11, 2019        Author: 
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Busy day today – Ecuador has expelled Julian Assange from its embassy in London, revoking the diplomatic asylum it had given him previously (without basis in international law vis-a-vis the UK). Assange was arrested by British police. More consequentially, the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, appears to be in the process of being deposed by the Sudanese military, after escalating street protests against his 30-year rule. He may end up before the ICC, or not.

We will have more coverage in the coming days. For our previous posts dealing with various aspects of Assange’s situation, see here. For our previous coverage of Bashir, see here.

Filed under: EJIL Analysis
 
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Foreign Office Certificates and Diplomatic Immunity in the Assange Affair

Published on March 2, 2018        Author:  and
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The Assange saga continues with recent decisions in the English Courts upholding the warrant for Julian Assange’s arrest. Dapo’s recent post on Ecuador’s purported appointment of Julian Assange as one of its diplomats to the UK considered the position on this issue as a matter of international law. However, a related issue is how the relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) would be applied if the issue were to arise in domestic proceedings in England and Wales. In other words, if Assange were to leave the embassy, and were to be arrested and prosecuted for failing to surrender, would he be able to rely, in an English court, on diplomatic immunity under the VCDR? Thinking through this question involves a degree of speculation, for we don’t yet know what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) posture towards any such claim would be. We will assume, however, that the FCO will maintain an approach consistent with its statement (reported here) of 11 January 2018: ‘The government of Ecuador recently requested diplomatic status for Mr Assange here in the UK. The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter.’ In other words, we will assume that the FCO would not recognise Assange as a diplomat.

How the matter would be resolved in domestic English proceedings is a difficult question. It involves consideration of the respective roles of courts and the executive in matters of foreign affairs, the distinction between questions of fact and questions of law in giving effect to FCO certificates, and the potential continued application of the common law principle that the courts and the executive should speak with one voice.

The Diplomatic Privileges Act

As a matter of domestic law, the starting point is the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 (DPA), which gives effect to the VCDR. In thinking through how the Assange matter would proceed in a domestic court, Section 4, which sets out the role of the FCO in matters of this kind, is crucial:

‘If in any proceedings any question arises whether or not any person is entitled to any privilege or immunity under this Act a certificate issued by or under the authority of the Secretary of State stating any fact relating to that question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact.’

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The Sheer Awfulness of Julian Assange

Published on December 1, 2012        Author: 
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Julian Assange gave an interview to the BBC yesterday – available here – which I commend to readers; it’s only 10 minutes long. Assange has of course had a long history of Messianic self-victimization and refusing to submit to legal process in Sweden and the UK on charges of sexual assault. I won’t even go into the momentous irony of a supposed champion for the freedom of speech taking refuge in the embassy of a country whose regime is generally not regarded as being very friendly to said freedom, or indeed of that country criticising the UK as imperialist whilst simultaneously violating the UK’s sovereignty by unlawfully harbouring a fugitive from justice. But while this BBC interview is a continuation of a long tradition on his part, I must say that until I had watched it I had not realized just how absolutely awful and cringe-worthy Assange is as a human being – he was not simply uncivil to the unfortunate BBC journalist interviewing him (herself admittedly not say an Edward R. Murrow), but was a first rate, frothing at the mouth kind of bully. His frequently completely uncritical supporters may want to take note.

My favourite moment in the interview comes at about 3:35 when he says, apparently as conclusive evidence that the UK Supreme Court decision dismissing his appeal against extradition to Sweden was completely wrong, that ‘in two academic articles [holding up two fingers] the Cambridge International Law Journal has condemned the findings of the Supreme Court.’ He is in fact referring to these two blog posts by Tiina Pajuste and Cameron Miles (both of which I recommend, who are rightly critical of the Court’s application of Art. 31(3)(b) VCLT) on the website of the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law (on whose academic review board I happily sit, in the spirit of full disclosure). Now how adorable is that? Abscoding from the law on the pretext that the decision of the highest court in the land was criticized in a blog post or two. I see much potential here!

(For our previous coverage of the Assange saga and the analysis of the pertinent legal issues readers can click on ‘Diplomatic Asylum’ in the categories tab below).

 
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