UN Official: Assange Faces ‘Show Trial’ if Extradited

Julian Assange attorneys speak to press after UK guilty verdict

The Story:

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, visited in a London prison by a UN human rights lawyer and two medical experts, is reportedly in no fit psychiatric condition to stand trial. Further, the lawyer (Nils Melzer) denounced the idea of Assange’s extradition to the United States for what Melzer categorized as a “politicized show trial.”

Background:

Assange’s organization, WikiLeaks, made headlines in 2016 when it helped publicize documents apparently obtained by hackers from a private email server used by Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Her opponent, Donald Trump, said at the time, “I love WikiLeaks,” although his amorous feelings seem since to have faded.

The US is now seeking that Assange be extradited so that he can be tried not in connection with the 2016 leak, but for his role in an earlier incident.

In 2010, WikiLeaks published material provided by Chelsea Manning, including what became known as the “Collateral Murder” video, showing US airstrikes on civilian targets and the killing of a wounded man in Iraq. Manning has been imprisoned for her part in this disclosure. This is the incident behind the pending extradition request. Manning has also served a brief prison term for refusing to testify against Assange at a grand jury proceeding.

The Thing to Know:

In a statement Melser, whose official title is U.N. special rapporteur on torture, said that Assange “shows all the symptoms of a person who has been exposed to psychological torture for a prolonged period of time,” and that the psychiatrist in the group described Assange’s condition as critical.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry welcome first child

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry welcome first child

The Duchess of Sussex gives birth to a baby boy in Windsor.

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Brexit adds to Northern Ireland’s broken politics

Floral tributes for journalist Lyra McKee, whose death the New IRA claimed responsibility for. | Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

The main achievement of the Good Friday Agreement — the creation of power-sharing institutions — is not just unwell, but perhaps terminally ill.

Like few places on earth, Northern Ireland lives its history.

It is everywhere — on street signs, radio phone-ins, murals and marches. Like poisonous gas, it is inescapable: directing daily life. It determines whom you vote for, what sport you play, which part of the city you live in.

Stay at the multimillion pound Radisson Blu hotel in downtown Belfast and an Irish tricolor can be seen, stuck in a window of a flat in the “Markets” area — an Irish Catholic ghetto surrounded by Britishness and a derelict patch of grass. On the other side of the hotel, five minutes from the Markets, a giant Union flag mural welcomes (warns) visitors that they are entering the loyalist Donegall Pass area of town.

It is a society like no other in Western Europe. Different rules apply. Politically, it is more Balkan than British or Irish.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement recognized this reality and sought a political system that could be all things to all people. Power was shared, with vetoes for both communities. The union with Great Britain maintained — even strengthened politically — but all-Ireland institutions created and nationalist rights guaranteed.

It created a land where you could be Irish or British — or both. You could shop on one side of the border and use the free NHS on the other.

It did not, however, change the fundamentals.

“Politics here are…

Bus to tell Brexiteers that we’ve now left the EU, nation hopes they fall for it again

A message on the side of a bus will inform Brexiteers that Britain has now left the EU while the rest of the country hopes they fall for it again.

The original Brexit bus claimed that Britain sent £350 million a week to the EU, money we would be able to spend on the NHS instead. While that message was a load of old…

European press gets popcorn out for another chaotic day of Brexit

A collage of European newspapers

European press and commentators switched on the TV, pulled out the popcorn and sat back to watch the latest preposterous episode in Britain’s Brexit psychodrama with a mixture of disbelief and resignation.

“Most series start getting dull after a second or third season, but Brexit’s different,” said Germany’s Die Zeit. “The longer it lasts, the better the plot gets. Yesterday’s twist was the best yet: first the unloved PM offers to go, then MPs seize the initiative and it seems the tide may be turning.

“But wait … In the end, it turns out they can agree on – absolutely nothing. So, cue uproar in the house, and the credits start running. ‘Order,’ roars John Bercow. Please do not adjust your set: we’ll be back right after the break.”

After a day in which Theresa May offered to step down as prime minister if MPs backed her twice-rejected Brexit deal, and parliament failed dismally to agree on any one of eight possible ways forward, the paper’s incredulous front page headline was: “All against all, and all against everything.”

Anyone blaming Britain’s present impasse on May had been proved wrong, the paper said: “Parliament is no smarter than the prime minister: lesson one. Lesson two, the crisis unfolding in Britain goes beyond Brexit. It has engulfed the political institutions and shaken the whole conventional order.”

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wondered despairingly whether “this moment of madness” might soon be behind us, “so that for all those involved, on both sides of the Channel, we can get back to talking about other…

Brussels confirms return of border checks under no-deal Brexit

The European commission said its Brexit no-deal plans “cannot replicate the benefits of being an EU member”.

British travellers will get a stamp in their passport every time they enter and leave the European Union in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the European commission has confirmed.

The announcement on border checks was revealed days after the British government secured a short extension that shifts the Brexit deadline to 12 April.

“The risk of a no-deal scenario is becoming increasingly likely,” an EU official said. The EU’s Brexit no-deal plans “cannot replicate the benefits of being an EU member” and were not “mini-deals or a negotiated no deal”, but unilateral measures to avoid disruption for the EU side, the official said.

In an information notice, the commission confirmed that in the event of a no-deal UK nationals would have the right to visa-free travel for short stays in the EU (90 days in any 180-day period), if the UK grants the same arrangement to citizens of all EU member states. “Your passport will be stamped both when you enter the EU and when you leave it, so that this period of 90 days, which is visa-free, can be calculated.”

British travellers would also lose access to the EU lane at border crossings, meaning longer queues.

In another return to the past, British travellers may be asked by border guards to provide information on the purpose of their visit and means of subsistence during their stay. Luggage would be subject to customs checks.

No deal would also mean the return of duty-free and the right of British travellers to claim a refund of VAT paid on goods during their stay in the EU, provided they have the right documents.

The…

‘The Brexodus is under way’: meet the Brits leaving the UK

Pip Batty on a mountain train from Bakuriani in Georgia
Pip Batty moved from England to Georgia: ‘We’re an international laughing stock.’ Photograph: Irina Boldina

Last month, after a decade of living in London, my husband and I packed up the contents of our two-bedroom flat and moved to France with our 15-month-old son. With another baby on the way, we’re renting an apartment in Toulouse while we look for a more permanent setup. Leaving friends and family behind, and getting to grips with a new culture and language, hasn’t been easy. But we have no plans to return to the UK.

What sold us on France? The healthier work-life balance and excellent education system, plus the fact that we’re lucky enough to have jobs that allow us to work remotely. Ultimately, though, there was one factor that cemented our decision to emigrate: Brexit.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that net migration from the EU to Britain has slumped to a six-year low. Numerous sectors of the economy, from science and academia to the NHS, have been hit hard. And it’s not just that EU nationals are turning their backs on the UK – in the year after the referendum, 17,000 Brits sought citizenship of another EU country, according to figures collated from embassies. The Brexodus is fully under way.

A common refrain among the Brexiles I speak to is that they no longer recognise the country they grew up in. Raised in Northern Ireland, I’ve always grappled with my national identity. I was born in west Belfast and have an Irish passport – yet until I moved across the UK border in Ireland to study at university, my cultural references were, by and large, British. I watched Gladiators on television and read The Famous Five. I bought pic’n’mix from Woolworths and wanted to be Anneka Rice. I saw enough of the fallout from the Troubles to realise from an early age the dangers of unchecked patriotism. So when I moved to London, I refused to dwell on historical grievances and embraced everything that was great about the UK. In the 2012 Olympics, I felt a surge of pride for my adopted homeland.

Nearly three years after the EU referendum, I no longer feel the same connection. A French friend, whose children were born in London, moved her family to Dublin last summer. She felt increasingly uncomfortable about the rise in xenophobia (Home Office figures showed that hate crimes rose by a third from 2016-2017) and wanted her daughters to be “raised European”. Many Irish friends have returned home, too, uneasy with “jokes” made by colleagues and acquaintances about the Irish famine, shocked by the ignorance of many of their English peers.

Nationalism isn’t confined to the UK. Nearly half of young French voters backed the Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, in the country’s 2017 general election. But aren’t we better off wading through this mess together? When my husband and I lived in London, we became good friends with a neighbour, a retired diplomat in his 80s. He had loved serving his country, including a stint in the USSR during the cold war. These days, he no longer identifies as British, but as a citizen of the world. He saw postwar Europe unite and remembers the devastation that led to the formation of the EU.

In a world of increasing uncertainty, I’ll take a bunch of bureaucrats over going it alone any day – even if that means uprooting. I spoke to four others who feel the same way.

Pip Batty, 40, a communications consultant, originally from Leicester, moved to Georgia in November. She now works in Tbilisi as an English language teacher

Pip Batty with friends in Bakuriani in Georgia
Pip Batty with friends in Bakuriani in Georgia. Photograph: Irina Boldina

I never thought I’d move to Georgia. It was just a place I went to on holiday last year and thought was brilliant. It’s a beautiful country and the people are so welcoming. I’m half Greek, and had been learning Greek for five years with the intention of emigrating there someday. Then Brexit happened. Suddenly, it started to become more challenging: a potential employer in Greece, who had been happy to offer me work, asked, “You have a Greek passport, right?” When I told him I was born in England, he just said, “Oh.”

In a country where the economy isn’t great and you have two people applying for the same job – one from Germany, where there’s freedom of movement and they know what’s going to happen in future, or a British person – you know who they are going to choose.

After the referendum, I thought everyone had lost the plot. There are people I don’t speak to any more because I know how they voted and I’m furious with them. People who were aware of my plan to move to Greece, people whose children are dating foreign nationals, how could they vote for Brexit? They weren’t thinking about any generation apart from their own.

Two years after the referendum, we’re an international laughing stock. It’s humiliating to be British. My students ask why we’ve done this. One Russian student said, “To us, it’s like you voted to make yourselves the Soviet Union. We lived through that. Why would you vote to isolate yourselves from everyone else, when you were the linchpin of this wonderful treaty?”

I’d like to try to get to Greece at some stage, but I’ll have to see what happens. I don’t want to say I’ll never come back to the UK because I will always be British. I’ve been told I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face, but I feel very strongly about this and will do for years to come. We’ve been wronged.

Journalist Alex Rawlings, 27, moved to Barcelona last November. He speaks 15 languages and holds Greek and British passports

With Brexit approaching UK’s voice in Brussels grows quiet

Ironically, one of Theresa May’s last acts as an EU leader will be to sign a communiqué on strengthening the single market.

For years a British foreign minister has shuttled once a month to Brussels or Luxembourg to meet their European counterparts. The crises of the world have crowded the agenda: from the Arab spring to the annexation of Crimea, coups, stolen elections and intractable wars.

Monday, in theory, could be the last time the United Kingdom name plate is on the table. While a Brexit extension is a near-certainty, the official departure date is still 29 March.

Uncertainty over exit day requires careful diplomacy. On Monday the British minister will have the chance to weigh in on the EU’s China strategy, ahead of a summit with Beijing on 9 April.

While British officials remain involved in discussions, the UK will hang back on strategic questions about how the EU should approach China. Nobody wants to be seen as lecturing European allies, while sitting in the EU departure lounge. A government spokesperson said: “The UK will continue to take a full part in discussions at the [Foreign Affairs Council], focusing on those issues that matter most to the UK and EU.”

Other day-to-day EU business provides a jarring contrast with the government’s Brexit strategy: one of Theresa May’s last acts as an EU leader will be to sign a routine communique on strengthening the single market – the one she insists Britain must leave.

Meanwhile, the UK’s 73 MEPs do not know if they will be out of a job in a fortnight, or in three months. “It is really unsettling, but we are the least people to worry about,” said the Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, speaking just outside the chamber in Strasbourg under the strident ring of a voting bell.

The uncertainty facing MEPs is nothing, she adds, compared with the unknowns confronting business. “A politician’s life is always uncertain, you never know if you are…

‘Painful intrusion of reality’: European press view on possible Brexit delay

A Brexit supporter outside parliament

After the chaos, contradictions and incompetence in the UK’s handling of Brexit, European media have spotted a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. On past form, of course, it will soon be extinguished, but the endgame seems – at least for now – to be approaching.

“At long last, MPs now have to decide where they stand,” said Die Zeit in Germany after the Commons voted in favour of a short extension to article 50 on Thursday evening, having earlier in the week rejected both Theresa May’s Brexit deal and no deal. “Empty promises to voters and pithy speeches in parliament will no longer cut it. The drama currently being played out in Westminster represents, at long last, the painful intrusion of reality into Britain’s Brexit debate.”

Party discipline had gone, arguments were mutating and majorities were switching, the paper said. “The real discussion about Brexit, the one that should have taken place over the past three years, is now under way and must be over in a matter of days. It is loud and it is painful, but it is bringing much-needed clarity.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reckoned the UK’s “battered prime minister may perhaps have slightly more reason for hope than before. Who knows, it could just be that the Brexit drama in London will come to an end soon after all.”

France’s Libération rejoiced that at long last one thing looked more or less likely: “Britain will not be leaving the EU on 29 March.” Except, it added, the country was traversing a period “so utterly extraordinary, so totally unprecedented, in which all the existing logic of votes and established political forces has been so completely overturned, that nothing, nothing at all, can any longer be predicted.”

May’s strategy was at least clear, Libération said: she would call a third vote on her deal…

Britain’s political system is at the breaking point

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks ahead of a vote on Brexit in Parliament in London, Britain, March 13, 2019 [Reuters TV]
British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks ahead of a vote on Brexit in Parliament in London, Britain, March 13, 2019 [Reuters TV]

As the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, called MPs to “Order! Order!” before the result of yesterday’s vote on Theresa May‘s Brexit Deal was announced, one could be forgiven for thinking it was just an ordinary day in the British parliament. The MPs were acting traditionally rowdy as they grouped onto the long green benches lined up opposite each other, the Conservatives to one side and Labour to the other. The tension in the air felt superficial, a consequence of Britain’s time-honoured game of political theatrics, as it has often been for decades.

Yet, there was nothing ordinary about what followed next.

Once again, MPs had voted down the Brexit withdrawal agreement. This time by 391 votes in favour to 241 against – a defeat by 149 votes. This was a slight improvement on Theresa May’s effort to secure support for her exit plans in January, where the defeat was by a record 230 votes. However, yesterday’s result was still extraordinary – the fourth largest margin in modern parliamentary history. For anything comparable, you have to go back to the 1920s.

So how did Theresa May, and Britain, end up in this mess?

It all started back in 2013, when May’s predecessor David Cameron promised an in-or-out of the EU referendum were he to win the upcoming general election. There was no pressing demand to hold such a vote from the wider British population, only an obsession about the EU within Cameron’s own Conservative Party. When Cameron unexpectedly won the 2015 election and had to organise the referendum, neither he nor the government had a plan as to how to actually do Brexit, nor any clear idea what the role of direct democracy should be within the British system. The June 23, 2016, referendum had no turnout threshold or special majority requirement as is normal for referendums on such important matters elsewhere in the world. The result was 52 percent to 48 percent in favour of exit, on a turnout of 72 percent.

This lack of vision and preparation, which were evident long before the vote, have dogged May’s government ever since, and culminated in her monumental parliamentary defeats.

Moreover, in the years since Cameron’s ill-fated referendum, May’s government made some moves that made an already hopeless situation worse: Rather than reaching out to the 48 percent that voted against exit, May systematically ignored their concerns. When pro-Leave campaigns were shown by the Electoral Commission to have broken campaign finance rules, May’s government once again ignored the problem. When the unimplementable promises made by the Leave campaigners before the referendum turned to dust, May’s government still persevered in trying to make Brexit…