Whistleblower Assange denied healthcare

Chris Court-Dobson

Julian Assange, the Australian founder and editor-in-chief of whistleblowing website wikileaks, has developed health problems while trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. His legal team and the Ecuadorian government have attempted to negotiate Mr Assange’s safe passage to a hospital for further tests. So far they have received no guarantee that he will not be arrested upon leaving the embassy from the UK governement.

In a press conference on Wednesday, the Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patino read out the letter of Doctor Laura Wood, who examined Assange when the problems began back in August.

Patiño read, citing the letter:

He [Julian Assange] has been suffering with a constant pain to the right shoulder region…[since June 2015]. There is no history of acute injury to the area. I examined him and all movements of his shoulder (abduction, internal rotation and external rotation) are limited due to pain. I am unable to elicit the exact cause of his symptoms without the benefit of further diagnostic tests, [including] MRI.

On the 30 September 2015, Ecuador wrote to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Great Britain requesting that Assange be granted safe passage to make a brief hospital visit, involving leaving the Ecuadorian embassy where he is claiming political asylum.

On 12 October the FCO replied, saying that Assange was free to leave the embassy, but that it would make no stipulation that he would not be immediately arrested if he should do so.

Patiño made it clear that this was not a satisfactory answer:

The reply we have had from Britain is that he can leave whenever he likes for any medical care he might need but the European arrest warrant for Assange is still valid. In other words, he can leave – and we will put him in jail.

The UK’s refusal to guarantee safe passage brings its stance on human rights into question.  Under article 25 of the Geneva convention, everyone has the right to medical treatment.

Assange’s US lawyer Carey Shenkman said:

By claiming that Mr. Assange must give up his asylum in order to receive medical treatment, the UK government is forcing him to choose between the human right to asylum and the human right to medical treatment. No one should ever have to face that choice. Sweden and the United Kingdom have the responsibility to ensure that Assange’s basic rights are respected. They should agree without further delay to permit Mr. Assange’s safe passage to a hospital on humanitarian grounds.

Just a few days ago on 13 October the Metropolitan Police ceased its armed vigil of the Ecuadorian embassy, dubbed the Siege of Knighstbridge by John Pilger. The siege, which has cost £12.6 million was deemed to be no longer ‘proportionate’.

Julian Assange is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes in Sweden, though he was already questioned and granted permission to leave the country before the arrest warrant was issued in Britain. Also unusual was that Sweden issued the European Arrest Warrant immediately after wikileaks published 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables, some of which display crimes against humanity perpetrated by US forces.

His legal team says that if arrested in the UK he will be sent to Sweden where he will almost certainly be extradited to the US and face detention without trial under similar conditions as whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Image via Wikimedia 

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