Julian Assange was unable to appear in court via videolink for his US extradition hearing on 30 May amid “grave concerns” for the WikiLeaks founder’s health. This news is a predictable result of the UK’s wilful neglect of Assange’s well-being.
On 28 May, Reuters reported that Assange’s Swedish defence lawyer Per Samuelson had sought to postpone a hearing planned for 3 June. Samuelson told the press:
One of the reasons is that Assange’s health situation on Friday was such that it was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him
The news of Assange’s ill health was hardly picked up in the news until WikiLeaks expressed “grave concerns about the state of health of our publisher”:
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson added:
Julian’s case is of major historic significance. It will be remembered as the worst attack on press freedom in our lifetime.
“The UK Gov is unlawfully slowly killing my son!”
Christine Assange (Assange’s mother) responded to the news, saying “the UK Gov is unlawfully slowly killing my son!”.
Assange has suffered physical and mental abuse since releasing the Iraq war logs in 2010. He spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London in what the United Nations called “arbitrary detention”. During this time, Dr Sondra Crosby – who has evaluated detainees in the likes of Guantánamo Bay – claimed that Assange suffered considerable physical and psychological harm. Crosby added that the British government had denied Assange safe passage to medical facilities.
In other words, Assange’s health has been deteriorating for some time – and the UK government has consistently denied his basic right to healthcare. As three doctors who evaluated Assange’s health wrote in 2018:
it is our professional opinion that his continued confinement is dangerous physically and mentally to him, and a clear infringement of his human right to healthcare.
And now, the US government’s 17 new counts against Assange under the Espionage Act would ensure that he remains in a prison cell for the rest of his days – or even face execution.
In addition to US charges related to WikiLeaks revelations, Assange also faces a rape allegation in Sweden. Now that Assange no longer has asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, Swedish authorities have reopened this investigation at the request of the accuser’s lawyer. Assange’s lawyer has previously insisted that “Julian has never been concerned about facing British justice or Swedish justice”. It is “US injustice”, she said, that concerns him. The Canary believes that no allegations of sexual assault or rape should ever become politicised by either side.
Perverted sense of justice
One cannot escape the perverted sense of justice running through this case. Assange exposed state crimes which, almost a decade later, are now being levelled against him by the same actors. The man who revealed the horrors of Guantánamo is now holed up in the UK’s equivalent; the man who released video evidence of the US army’s criminal killings of journalists now finds the US has put a target on his own head.
Assange’s journalistic record of exposing state crimes is acutely connected to the slow-motion physical and mental devastation imposed on him. Indeed, the UK and US prosecution have jumped through scores of legal hoops to arrive where we are today.
Just weeks before Assange’s health deteriorated further, he wrote a hand-written letter from Belmarsh prison to independent journalist Gordon Dimmack. The letter, which was revealed by The Canary, read:
I am unbroken, albeit literally surrounded by murderers, but, the days where I could read and speak and organize to defend myself, my ideals, and my people are over until I am free! Everyone else must take my place.
Assange is not just fighting for freedom now, but his health. And the “worst attack on press freedom in our lifetime” requires the greatest fightback.
Featured image va screengrab/CBS News