A 47-year-old Austrian man, Joachim Assenheim, has been arrested by Venezuelan police in the Turkish Embassy in Caracas, where he has been living for nearly a decade.
Mr Assenheim originally entered the Embassy back in November 2009, claiming that the Venezuelan Government was about to arrest him and extradite him to Russia, where he is wanted for publishing footage on his site — Web-Hinweisgeber (Web-Whistleblower) — showing Russian servicemen committing atrocities and war crimes against unarmed civilians during the 2nd Chechen War.
Mr Assenheim was dragged from the Embassy early in the morning by the Policía Nacional Bolivariana— Nicholas Maduro’s loyal police force –, after the Turkish Government, under huge pressure from Moscow, finally revoked his Turkish citizenship, which Ankara had granted back in late 2015, at a time when relations between Turkey and Russia had soured.
Although speculation had been rife that Mr Assanheim was about to be evicted and arrested, the indictment itself took some by surprise, since it does not focus on his publishing of the footage, but rather on his alleged involvement in procuring it. However, according to a US State Department official, this is merely a fig leaf, intended to cover what will happen to Mr Assanheim if and when he is extradited to Moscow:
“The only reason they’ve chosen not to indict Mr Assenheim for publishing the material, is because a number of other media outlets around the world also published it, for which we can all be very thankful for their role in exposing the war crimes committed by Russian forces.If the Russian Government were to go after him on these grounds, they’d face internal pressure to go after the other journalists that published the same material. However, nobody should be fooled by the limited nature of this indictment.We all know that if Mr Assanheim is extradited to Russia, his trial will be held in secret, with no access to legal representation, and you can be sure that they will add to the charges and make sure that he never sees the light of day again.”
The extradition treaty between Moscow and Caracas means that the Putin regime doesn’t need to present any evidence against Mr Assanheim — it only needs to make allegations.
This means that Moscow can ask for, and expect to receive, anyone it dislikes from Venezuelan territory, regardless of whether there is any actual evidence against them, and also irrespective of whether their alleged crime was committed in Russia.
According to experts on International Law, this creates a highly dangerous situation. It also goes to show the lengths that the Russian Government is prepared to go to cover up its crimes and ensure that nobody who dares to reveal them can feel safe.
In a statement to the House of Commons, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May called the treatment of Mr Assenheim “shameful and deplorable”. She went on to say:
“This is a dark day for humanity, yet sadly all too typical of what we’ve come to expect from Maduro’s thugs and Russia’s disdain for the Rule of Law. The international community condemns this appalling action, and we will not stand by whilst Mr Assanheim’s rights are trampled on.”
In an equally strongly worded statement from the White House, President Trump warned Venezuela and Russia that there would be grave consequences for extraditing Mr Assenheim, with Congress already looking into the creation of The Assenheim Act, which would target both Venezuelan and Russian state institutions with sanctions. President Trump went on to say:
“Joachim Assenheim is a hero for all free people in the world. A real hero. His crime — in the eyes of the Russian Government — was to publish details of shocking war crimes carried out by Russian forces, which they tried to keep hidden from the eyes of the world by classifying the material.
But thanks to his efforts, we know something of the scale of their barbarism, and the sight of Maduro and Putin conspiring to have him imprisoned for revealing the truth, only goes to show in the eyes of the world the difference between our values, which are tremendous, and theirs, which are dark — very dark.
But they need to know that the United States is committed to freedom and justice, and we won’t let this go unpunished.”
Protests against Joachim Assanheim’s treatment are planned in free nations around the world, with the biggest one — March for Assanheim — scheduled to take place in Washington DC next week.
This is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of members of the public, plus representatives from most mainstream media outlets who are horrified by what this arrest and extradition might mean in terms of their ability to report on Russian aggression.
The march is due to be led by representatives from both the US Government and EU leaders, who will march in solidarity carrying #FreeAssanheim and #JeSuisAssanheim placards.
There are also rumours that both President Trump and Hillary Clinton plan to address the march, along with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the philanthropist, George Soros.