Julian Assange Could Die In Prison, Warns 60 Concerned Doctors
“Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.”
More than 60 doctors sent an urgent letter to U.K. authorities on Monday warning that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s health is so bad he could die in prison.
“Mr Assange requires urgent expert medical assessment of both his physical and psychological state of health,” the doctors wrote, urging authorities to transfer Assange from Belmarsh prison in London, where he is being kept, to a hospital.
“Any medical treatment indicated should be administered in a properly equipped and expertly staffed university teaching hospital (tertiary care),” the doctors advised. “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.”
Who Is Assange?
Assange used WikiLeaks to publish classified diplomatic and military files that exposed U.S. war crimes, Guantanamo Bay’s “operating procedure,” the CIA’s global covert hacking program, the U.S.’s use of the World Bank and IMF for “economic warfare,” and numerous other forms of disturbing and unflattering information about powerful figures throughout the world.
Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations that he feared would result in being handed over to the United States. Swedish prosecutors dropped the sexual assault investigation for the third time last Tuesday.
In April, British authorities forced him out of the Ecuadorian embassy and imprisoned him in London’s Belmarsh prison for missing bail in 2012, when he began living in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden over the now-dropped sexual assault allegation.
The United States is seeking Assange’s extradition to the U.S., where he faces up to 175 years in prison on charges of violating the World War I-era Espionage Act and criminal hacking. His extradition hearing will take place in February.
Assange’s Psychological Torture
The doctors based their report on “harrowing eyewitness accounts” of his October 21 court appearance in London, where he appeared frail and psychologically disturbed, and a scathing report last month by Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture.
The UN rights expert made a similar assessment, warning that Assange’s “continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life:”
“In the course of the past nine years, Mr. Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.”
“Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma,” the independent expert continued, condemning the “psychological torture” inflicted on Assange by the corrupt power structure he worked to expose.
“In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” Melzer continued. “The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”
Dropped Sexual Assault Investigation
Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation into a 2010 sexual assault allegation involving Assange last Tuesday, although they said that the plaintiff’s accusation was credible.
It was the third time the prosecutors dropped the investigation, which journalist John Pilger notes was marred by severe prosecutorial irregularities:
“In 2013, the Swedish prosecutor tried to abandon the case and emailed the Crown Prosecution Service in London to say it would no longer pursue a European Arrest Warrant, to which she received the reply: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!” (Thanks to Stefania Maurizi of La Repubblica)
“Other emails show the CPS discouraging the Swedes from coming to London to interview Assange – which was common practice – thus blocking progress that might have set him free in 2011.
“There was never an indictment. There were never charges. There was never a serious attempt to put ‘allegations’ to Assange and question him – behavior that the Swedish Court of Appeal ruled to be negligent, and the General Secretary of the Swedish Bar Association has since condemned.”
The leaked emails Pilger refers to showed that Swedish authorities wanted to abandon the case six years ago, but were pressured by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to continue. The CPS advised Swedish prosecutors not to interview Assange in Britain.
“Every time Assange offered them to interview him, come and question him in London, they refused to do so,” journalist Tariq Ali, who co-wrote a book with human rights lawyer Margaret Kuntsler titled In Defense Of Julian Assange, told DemocracyNow.
CNN and other corporate outlets repeatedly claimed that Assange was hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden because of the rape accusation.
“Assange always said he would consent to extradition to Sweden as long as it was accompanied by a guarantee that he would not be onwardly extradited to the United States for his journalistic activities. Ecuador offered that possibility to Sweden from the very beginning,” explained Fidel Narváez, an Ecuadorian diplomat who worked at the embassy where Assange lived in asylum, to the Grayzone Project.
“In May 2017, after Sweden closed the preliminary investigation for the second time, Assange still did not leave the embassy, because the risk of extradition to the US remained imminent — a fact that was proven to be correct when Ecuador handed him over to the British,” Narváez continued.
Prosecutor Marianne Ny refused to guarantee Assange would not be sent to the United States if he came to Sweden to cooperate with the prosecutors, notes Pilger.
A Swedish court ruled in June that Assange, who has denied the accusation, should not be detained.
Threats To The First Amendment
Speaking with DemocracyNow, human rights lawyer Margaret Kunstler noted that Assange represents “the first time that a reporter has ever been charged with espionage,” an alarming development that threatens press freedom.
“All he did was publish information which The Guardian published in its pages, The New York Times published, El País published, Repubblica published in Italy. So it would be a severe attack on civil liberties. So at long last, something is beginning to move on the mainstream front to defend Julian,” Tariq Ali told DemocracyNow, arguing that other publications are beginning to stand up for Assange out of fear of undermining press freedom, after years of demonizing him.
Ali argues Assange’s inhumane treatment is meant to serve as a warning to journalists.
“We should be in no doubt that the reason they’re doing this—the British, the United States, et cetera—is to make it—it’s a deterrent,” said Ali. “It’s to tell any other people who publish unauthorized material, “Look, this is what happens. Look what happened to Julian Assange. We locked him up. We tortured him. We want to lock him up for life.”
Kuntsler argues Assange is protected under the first amendment, citing a ruling from Justice Hugo Black in the 1971 case New York Times vs. United States:
“In the First Amendment, the founding fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bear the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free press, unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”