Back to article index


Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy fit and healthy, a man at the top of his immensely difficult, immensely courageous game. Prior to 2012, following the list of his honours given in his Wikipedia entry, he had won the Economist New Media award (2008), the Amnesty International UK New Media Award (2009), in 2010 he was Time Person the Year and Le Monde Readers Choice Award for Person of the Year, in 2011 he won the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal, the Walkley Award (the 'pinnacle of achievement for any Australian journalist') and the Martha Gelhorn Prize for Journalism.

When he left the embassy, however, on the 11th April 2019, the then Guardian journalist, Suzanne Moore, felt able to write, in the New Statesman: 'O frabjous day! We are all bored out of our minds with Brexit when a demented gnome is pulled out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the secret police of the deep state. Or "the Met", as normal people call them.' Labour MP Jess Philips commented in the Daily Mirror: 'Finally Julian Assange, everyone's least favourite squatter, has been kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy and into custody on charges of skipping bail after accusations of sexual violence in Sweden.'

The BBC informed its viewers on News at Ten that Assange 'took refuge originally to avoid extradition to Sweden over charges of sexual assault.'  Newsnight began its report: 'Out of his hiding place and under arrest.' (16) A Guardian editorial conceded that he 'has shone a light on things that should never have been hidden' (the Guardian of course had done rather well out of the affair) but continued sternly: 'When he first entered the Ecuadorian embassy he was trying to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape and molestation. That was wrong.' 

(16) This account of media reaction is taken from the Media Lens accounts from April 2019: and 

Of course the very moment Assange left the embassy the US unveiled its sealed indictment and demanded his extradition so the Guardian knew - even if they hadn't read the revelations in the leaked Stratfor emails (17) - that Assange's anxiety about extradition to the US was far from unjustified.

(17) See the account in the Prologue.

Everything was done to make Assange look sordid and ridiculous. The Daily Mail (12-13 April 2019) was allowed into the embassy to post a story: 'Assange inside his fetid lair: Revealed, the full squalid horror that drove embassy staff to finally kick him out.' (18)



• Photos of Julian Assange's "dirty protests" have been revealed

• He left soiled underpants in the toilet in the Ecuadorian embassy in a fit of rage

• On other occasions he left excrement smeared across the wall and ignored warnings not to leave half-eaten meals in the kitchen

To back this up there was one photograph of some dirty dishes in a sink. And a picture of a very clean looking toilet. As Melzer comments (p.207) 'Mysteriously, in Assange's meetings with doctors, lawyers, visitors, his surveillance always seems to have worked flawlessly, yet the same sophisticated technology has failed to capture any of the misconduct he is accused of. No photographs or audio/video footage of the alleged soccer games, none of the alleged torture of his cat, none of the alleged smearing of toilet walls with excrement. Nevertheless, these allegations are relentlessly repeated and obediently disseminated by the press until they have taken root in the minds of the public. As a result, when people hear the name 'Assange', they no longer think of the war crimes and corruption he exposed, but only of the tragicomic loser they can treat with pity, ridicule or disdain.'

Melzer however misses a subtlety in the reporting, The excrement on the walls incident is attributed to the Rafael Correa period, before the heavy surveillance began. Of course at that time Melzer tells us (p.198) 'the former consul [Fidel Narvaez] found it remarkable that, overall, the co-existence of the embassy staff with Assange had been marked by friendliness and mutual respect for five years.' But 'There was a brief exception in October 2016, when the Ecuadorian government temporarily suspended Assange's access to the internet during the Presidential election, in order to mitigate the political tensions caused by the DNC leaks.' This refers to the leak of some 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments from the Democratic National Convention, the governing body of the US Democratic Party, which revealed machinations favouring the nomination of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. Accusations that the emails had been obtained from Russian hackers and that they had contributed to the election of Donald Trump were to do Assange and Wikileaks a great deal of harm among supposedly 'liberal' opinion.

Melzer finally met with Assange in Belmarsh prison on the 9th May: 'Clean-shaven, his white hair neatly trimmed, he bore no resemblance to the man who had been dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy a few weeks earlier. Then Assange had looked unkempt, pale and much older, with long, matted hair and a messy beard. The pictures had gone around the world. What the public had not been told, however, was that Assange's squalid appearance had been deliberately staged by the Ecuadorian authorities to make him look repulsive and bizarre in the media. According to Assange, three months before his arrest, his shaving kit had been taken away by the embassy's security personnel - one of countless small reprisals with which they obstructed his daily struggle for a dignified existence.' (p.58)

While as a UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Melzer would naturally expect his conclusions and recommendations to be ignored, he was used to being treated in the various countries he investigated with at least formal respect. In the Assange case he was unable to speak to the senior politicians concerned and when he visited Belmarsh, the governor was absent, and when he went to the chief nurse's office 'to have a copy of Assange's medical records printed out ... and to get the prison doctor's opinion on various aspects of his health' he found that 'not a single prison doctor was said to be present all day. In a high-security prison with almost 1,000 inmates. At the time of an officially announced visit by a UN expert and his medical team.'

He had announced his visit in advance and that he would be holding a press conference. He thought there would be media interest 'including the BBC, Sky News, the Guardian and the Times'  but found that there was only one journalist present. 'He worked for Ruptly, a news agency affiliated with Russia's state-run RT television network.' (pp.61-2)

Melzer submitted his formal report to the British government on 27th May and to the Ecuadorian, Swedish and United States governments on the 28th. He released a press statement on 31st May. In a chapter entitled 'Government denial of reality' he describes the responses he received to his formal letters of complaint. He sums them up with the well-known phrase of Hannah Arendt - 'banality of evil.' 

On 26th June he released the article Demasking the Torture of Julian Assange, the article which, as mentioned earlier, was refused publication by the Guardian, the Times, the Financial Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian, the Canberra Times, the Telegraph, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Newsweek. It was at this point that what I have called the Swedish project - aiming to establish that the offence of which Assange was accused was very serious and required to be punished - jumped up to bite him.