More than 60 doctors have written an open letter saying that Julian Assange’s health has deteriorated so much that the WikiLeaks founder’s life is in danger inside a British jail.
The WikiLeaks founder is serving a 50-week sentence in Belmarsh Prison ahead of an extradition hearing in February to the United States on alleged espionage charges.
The 48-year-old Australian citizen is currently serving a 50-week sentence in a top-security prison outside London for jumping bail. He is fighting extradition to the US after he has served this sentence, where he is wanted on charges of violating the Espionage Act in connection with WikiLeaks’ publishing of classified documents. If found guilty, he could end up receiving a 175-year sentence in a US prison.
Physical, psychological issues
The medical experts wrote to British Home Secretary Priti Patel saying they had “concerns about Mr. Assange’s fitness” to go through the hearing, which is set for February next year.
“Mr. Assange requires urgent expert medical assessment of both his physical and psychological state of health,” the doctors agreed in the letter, released on Monday.
“Were such urgent assessment and treatment not to take place, we have real concerns, on the evidence currently available, that Mr. Assange could die in prison. The medical situation is thereby urgent. There is no time to lose.”
The letter, distributed by WikiLeaks, was sent to Home Secretary Priti Patel, who heads up the British government agency in charge of law enforcement. It was also addressed to Patel’s political counterpart from the opposition party, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot.
Dr. Lissa Johnson of Australia, Assange’s home country, said an independent medical assessment was needed to determine if Assange is “medically fit” to face legal proceedings.
In the letter, Johnson and the other doctors from a range of different countries warn that, in their opinion, if Assange does not receive the medical attention they say he requires, “we have real concerns, on the evidence currently available, that Mr Assange could die in prison. The medical situation is thereby urgent. There is no time to lose.”
Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, said in a tweet that the focus should now move to the “threat” that Assange has been “warning about for years: the belligerent prosecution of the United States and the threat it poses to the First Amendment.”
The Australian faces an 18-count indictment in the Eastern District of Virginia that accuses him of soliciting and publishing classified information and with conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a Defence Department computer password.
On 9 May 2019, Mr Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, visited Belmarsh prison accompanied by two medical experts, with special expertise in assessing victims of torture. This involved a 60 minute conversation with Mr Assange, an hour-long physical examination and a two-hour psychiatric examination.
In June Mr Melzer the United Nations Special Rapporteur stated Julian Assange is undergoing psychological torture, he stated:
we all came to the conclusion that he showed all the symptoms that are typical for a person that has been exposed to psychological torture over an extended period of time.
“While the US Government prosecutes Mr. Assange for publishing information about serious human rights violations, including torture and murder, the officials responsible for these crimes continue to enjoy impunity,” Melzer said.
He also decried that “despite the complexity of the proceedings against him led by the world’s most powerful Government, Mr. Assange’s access to legal counsel and documents has been severely obstructed.”
This, he said, had effectively undermined “his most fundamental right to prepare his defence.”
Last week, Swedish prosecutors announced they were dropping an investigation against the WikiLeaks founder, who had been accused by two women of assault in Stockholm in 2010.