More on Assange, rape and the right to die – The Human Rights Roundup

27 August 2012 by

Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your weekly smörgåsbord of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.

by Wessen Jazrawi

The news
This week has been dominated by the figure of Julian Assange, with many UK-based legal bloggers commenting on the many aspects of his case, not least in relation to the question of extradition to the US and diplomatic protection by Ecuador. There has also been a very sad conclusion to the right-to-die campaign by Tony Nicklinson, which is that he refused food and passed away on Thursday.

Pussy Riot

In the midst of all the (justified) furore about Pussy Riot, Simon Jenkins has written an excellent article on the Guardian on the hypocrisy of the west’s criticism of their treatment. He notes the highly politicised treatment of the rioters last summer, those who had stolen a bottle of water and Charlie Gilmour’s swinging from a union jack and tossing a bin at a car.

German rabbis, circumcision and the right to religious freedom

The Times of Israel has reported that criminal charges have been filed against a German rabbi in the town of Hof who has performed circumcisions. See also Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz as well as Adam Wagner’s post on the decision of a German regional court which effectively outlawed the practice in one part of Germany. Meanwhile the American Academy of Paediatrics has said that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks.

Also on the subject of religion and the law, Alice Donald has written a guest piece on the UKHRB on the interaction between the law and religion and whether Article 9 receives sufficient – or too much – protection in the courts. This is based on a new report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission which explores these issues.

Right to die and right to live

As mentioned above, Tony Nicklinson died this week after refusing food. This was reported on by the BBC hereRosalind English deals with this in an excellent post on the UKHRB which looks at the courts’ willingness to set precedent in other areas of law and the power of the religious lobby.

Meanwhile, the BBC has also reported on the case of a Muslim man in a vegetative state whose family insist that he would want to be revived. The case is currently before the Court of Protection at the High Court.

The Julian Assange saga

As someone who has had a break from the UKHRB for a few weeks, the legal blogs made fascinating reading this week as they debunked many of the myths reported in the popular press. Here’s a selection of just a few: Colin Murray’s post on the Human Rights in Ireland blog focuses on Assange’s claim that the rape allegations are a pretext to transfer him to Sweden from where he will be extradited to the US to face the death penalty for disclosing state secrets. David Allen Green on the New Statesman provides an excellent rebuttal of all the key “zombie facts”, including that the allegation of rape would not be rape here in the UK, that Sweden should guarantee that there should be no extradition to the US, that Sweden should simply interview Assange here in the UK and that by granting protection, Ecuador is protecting freedom of the press. Highly recommended.

Obiter J on Watching the Law deals with the question of the grant of diplomatic asylum by Ecuador, noting that there is no general right to grant it but, exceptionally, it may be possible to grant it (a) as a temporary measure to individuals in physical danger; (b) where there is a binding local customary rule that diplomatic asylum is permissible and (c) under a treaty providing specifically for it. In a separate blog post, Obiter J also addresses the question of what would happen if Assange ever got to Sweden and the US made an extradition request.

Greg Callus in A Typo in the Constitution blog focuses on the question of whether his extradition from the UK to Sweden would materially increase the likelihood of him being extradited to the United States, and on the idea of temporary surrender. He notes that it is difficult to see how him being extradited to Sweden makes any difference at all to his chances of ending up in the US, and that, if anything, going voluntarily and being found not guilty in Sweden actually seems to be his best chance of avoiding the US extradition request entirely.

Finally, Adam Wagner has in his article on the UKHRB provided links to all the relevant articles on the Assange case as well as providing commentary on the case and its many facets.

Politicians and rape

Louise Mensch writes for the Telegraph this week on the comments of Todd Akin, George Not-everybody-needs-to-be-asked-prior-to-each-insertion Galloway and other male politicians with regards to rape. For those who, perhaps like myself have been on holiday this past week, it neatly covers all the offenders in one article. She also suggests that the reason that male politicians get it so wrong is that they actually believe what they are saying, and ends by calling for more female lawyers in the justice department. This was picked up by the BBC.

In a neat link back to the Assange case, Carl Gardner on the Head of Legal blog also addresses the actions by Craig Murray on Newsnight where he named one of the women who has alleged rape against Assange. He notes that what he did should have been unlawful under UK law but was not because it related to an offence occurring outside the UK and that it may be time to call for a change in the law.

In response to the comments by George Galloway with regards to the meaning of rape, the BBC has provided a breakdown of the legal definitions in England and Wales, Sweden, Scotland, the US and Germany.

Secret court proposals

Ian Cobain on the Guardian deals with the government’s new secrecy proposals, contained in the Justice and Security Bill, which will allow government ministers to apply for special courtroom measures known as closed material procedure whenever the government or its intelligence agencies are being sued in the UK courts. These are being compared to super-injunctions which not only prevent the media from publishing information said to be confidential or private, but also ban publication of the fact that the injunction exists. See our most recent post on the topic for more.

Extra-judicial blogging

Following on from Adam Wagner‘s post last week, Judith Townend asks on the Inforrm blog what prompted these concerns and the new guidance.  She asks some practical questions including whether the guidance means that a member of the judiciary can publish online under their real name but must not state their position (even if this information can be found online).

Same-sex marriageThe Family Lore blog addresses some of arguments against same-sex marriage, making a number of very valid points.

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  1. Simon Carne says:

    Much has been made of the comparison between the Pussy Riot sentences and the sentence for Charlie Gilmour, who you described (relying on Simon Jenkins’ article) as being sentenced for “swinging from a union jack and tossing a bin at a car”. This description is not, in fact, correct. Gilmour’s swinging from a union jack was highly publicised, but irrelevant to the sentencing (see judgment below).

    Gilmour was sentenced for attacking a shop and the royal cars. In both cases, there were people inside the structure he was found guilty of attacking and, in both cases, windows were smashed. I am in no position to comment either way on whether Gilmour’s sentence was fair or not, but the actions he was sentenced for were very different from those commonly described in the press (and above).

    The following is an extract (I hope it is a fair one) from the Appeal Court’s judgment, which I found at

    4 “[Gilmour] admitted violent disorder. He was unmistakeably captured on CCTV footage … joining in the attack on the windows of a shop. He was part of a violent crowd laying siege to the shop, in which both staff and shoppers were trapped. He twice ran up and launched heavy kicks at the window, as did others before him and, no doubt, after him. The combined effect of the attack was that the windows were at some stage broken – it may well be by the time the defendant joined in …

    5 The Crown case was that the defendant also took violent part in the attack on the royal cars a little earlier. … There could be no doubt that he then sat ostentatiously on the bonnet of one of the escort cars, because that too was plainly shown on camera. Very shortly after … the windows of the cars were smashed … The Crown case was that [Gilmour] threw one of the bins. He did not admit this. Accordingly the judge had to assess the evidence. … He concluded that he was sure that the defendant had indeed thrown a bin.”

    12 … A little later he was to be found swinging in an exhibitionist manner and for quite a prolonged period on one of the flags on the Cenotaph. This was an incident which unsurprisingly subsequently attracted a good deal of attention. Deeply offensive as it undoubtedly was, it did not amount to violence and thus was not part of the offence of violent disorder with which he was charged.”

  2. fignapples says:

    Well, that’s disappointing, to say the least. I believe in Tony Nicklinson’s right to die in the manner he wished due to his condition. I believe the issue of women and rape are serious (and having checked the definition, being old school and not knowing the new popular words, believe being a ‘rape apologist’ is a good definition of those who cruelly deny and blame the victim. However, I do not understand why only one argument has been presented in regard to Julian Assange. It is extremely important to look at more than one source or opinion. You could start with ABC 4 Corners, ‘Lies, Sex and Julian Assange’ or stay with the ‘zombie facts’ you applaud. I apologise for the aspersion but isn’t that the kind of aspersion hurled at those who support or who are simply interested in looking at the situation from a different perspective in order to form an educated opinion?

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