More than 60 doctors have written a letter to UK home secretary Priti Patel and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott. The letter warns that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could die in prison unless action is taken immediately.
UK government’s “outright contempt” for Assange
The letter is largely in response to observations made by people like journalist John Pilger and Nils Melzer – the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It is signed by more than 60 doctors from around the world. It provides a chronology of Assange’s deteriorating health over the last four years.
On 11 April 2019, Assange was expelled from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. On 9 May 2019, Melzer visited Assange in Belmarsh prison and they spent an hour in conversation. During that visit, Assange also underwent a one-hour physical examination and a two-hour psychiatric examination. And Melzer said:
We all came to the conclusion that [Assange] showed all the symptoms that are typical for a person that has been exposed to psychological torture over an extended period of time
On 1 November, Melzer issued a strongly-worded statement on Assange’s condition, saying:
what we have seen from the UK Government is outright contempt for Mr Assange’s rights and integrity. Despite the medical urgency of my appeal, and the seriousness of the alleged violations, the UK has not undertaken any measures of investigation, prevention and redress required under international law.
Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life.
“No time to lose”
The doctors’ letter recommends that Assange receive immediate hospital treatment:
From a medical point of view, on the evidence currently available, we have serious concerns about Mr Assange’s fitness to stand trial in February 2020. Most importantly, it is our opinion that Mr Assange requires urgent expert medical assessment of both his physical and psychological state of health. Any medical treatment indicated should be administered in a properly equipped and expertly staffed university teaching hospital (tertiary care).
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.
On 15 November, Assange’s defence lawyer Jennifer Robinson provided an update on Assange – his health and predicament – at a conference in Sydney. And she seemed to agree with the observations above.
Will the government continue to deny Assange justice?
Responsibility for what happens next to Assange lies with the UK government. To avoid any tragedy, politicians need to act now to ensure that the health – both physical and mental – of this leading publisher is fully restored. Only then will Assange be in a position to properly defend himself at the US extradition hearing, scheduled for February, from its preposterous charges.
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