After UK government silence, over 100 medical doctors urge Australia to defend Assange

Julian Assange
John McEvoy

On 22 November, over 60 medical doctors signed an open letter to the UK government concerning WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The letter, addressed to the UK home secretary Priti Patel and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, expressed concerns that Assange “could die in prison”. Despite wide media coverage, the UK government did not respond.

The doctors, now numbering over 100, have today written to the Australian prime minister and foreign secretary to reaffirm their serious concerns, and urge his transfer to an Australian university teaching hospital.

The letter

The letter, which can be read in full here, states:

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The medical imperative to protect Australian citizen Julian Assange cannot be overstated. Our letters to the UK Government have warned of serious consequences if Mr Assange is not transferred immediately from Belmarsh Prison to an appropriate hospital setting, where he can be assessed and treated by a suitably constituted specialist medical team. Mr Assange requires assessment and treatment in an environment that, unlike Belmarsh prison, does not further destabilise his complex and precarious physical and mental state of health. …

The Australian government has shamefully been complicit by its refusal to act, over many years. Should Mr Assange die in a British prison, people will want to know what you, Minister, did to prevent his death. …

We are reliably advised that it is a well-established principle of international law—and of Australian law recognised by its own courts—that if a country’s citizens face improper treatment, persecution, and human rights violations, they may be the subject of diplomatic action, at that sovereign power’s discretion, to protect its citizens abroad. The Australian government must exercise that discretion and request from Britain the safe passage of Mr Assange to Australia, to protect Mr Assange and the rights of all Australian citizens.

Diplomatic pressure

The doctors call on the Australian government to “insist upon the immediate transfer of Mr Assange from Belmarsh Prison to an Australian university teaching hospital”. The letter continues by saying:

That we, as doctors, feel ethically compelled to hold governments to account on medical grounds speaks volumes about the gravity of the medical, ethical and human rights travesties that are taking place. It is an extremely serious matter for an Australian citizen’s survival to be endangered by a foreign government obstructing his human right to health. It is an even more serious matter for that citizen’s own government to refuse to intervene, against historical precedent and numerous converging lines of medical advice.

A medical addendum can be read here, which details the doctors’ principal concerns relating to Assange’s deteriorating condition. These concerns relate to the consequences of psychological torture, inadequate access to medical treatment, and the unpredictability of Assange’s medical status. His removal from Belmarsh prison for further treatment, they say, is therefore urgent.

Defend Assange

This is not the first time that Australian foreign secretary Marise Payne has come under pressure over Assange. Greg Barns, an Australian barrister and adviser to Assange, has already called on Payne to raise Assange’s case with the US and UK.

Former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr has also suggested that America’s extradition request for Assange “changes the game” and may “test the patience” of Australia.

The Australian government’s official response to the letter remains, at the time of publication, forthcoming.

Featured image via YouTube – 60 Minutes Australia

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