Julian Assange’s lawyer warns he could die in a UK prison while appeals are exhausted

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Jennifer Robinson, Julian Assange’s Australian lawyer, has made it clear that the WikiLeaks founder could die in prison while appeals against his extradition to the US are exhausted.

Assange faces a series of bogus charges – 17 relating to espionage and one for computer misuse.

‘He may not survive’

On 19 October, Robinson spoke at the National Press Club in Canberra. She was blunt in her assessment of Assange’s health, saying “I don’t know how much longer he can last”. Indeed, on 12 December 2021, it was reported that Assange had suffered a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA), also sometimes referred to as a mini-stroke. A TIA can often indicate the likelihood of a follow-up major stroke.

Robinson told the press club:

Julian’s wife Stella waits anxiously for the phone call she dreads. As she has said, Julian is suffering profoundly in prison – and it is no exaggeration to say he may not survive it.

She described what was happening to him as:

Punishment by legal process. Bury[ing] him in never-ending legal process until he dies

Read on...

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Robinson also brought up the matter of the appeals process:

We have filed an appeal and we should learn soon whether the High Court will grant permission and hear it.

If it does, we can expect a process that could take years – through the High Court, and to the UK Supreme Court. If we lose, we will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] – that is, if the conservative British government doesn’t remove its jurisdiction before we are able to.

Indeed, the Tory government when Boris Johnson was prime minister considered making it easier for the UK to override ECHR rulings. And the next Tory administration could continue to push that policy.

Should all appeals fail, Robinson explained:

Julian will be extradited to the US – where his prison conditions will be at the whim of the intelligence agencies which plotted to kill him. He will face an unfair trial and once convicted, it could take years before a First Amendment constitutional challenge would be heard before the US Supreme Court.

Another decade of his life gone – if he can survive that long.

Legal milestones

During the course of her speech, Robinson noted some of the recent legal milestones leading to the present day. For example:

  • In May 2020 details of the notorious Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) that Assange would likely be subject to if extradited to the US were published by the Canary. According to one report SAMs are “the darkest corner of the U.S. federal prison system, combining the brutality and isolation of maximum security units with additional restrictions that deny individuals almost any connection to the human world”.
  • In January 2021, the judge ruled that Assange’s extradition was disallowed on health grounds and the risk that he could take his own life.
  • However in December 2021 the US appealed that decision, offering an ‘assurance’ that, according to Robinson, US authorities would not “place him under SAMs unless they decide he later deserves it”. The magistrate then ruled that the extradition could go ahead after all, once the home secretary approves it.
  • In June 2022, then UK home secretary Priti Patel agreed that Assange could be extradited.
  • That decision led to the latest round of appeals.

Wider context

Robinson also summarised some of the other developments surrounding the case:

  • UN special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer concluded in 2019 that Assange had been subjected to “torture”.
  • In 2017, US congressman Dana Rohrabacher met with the WikiLeaks founder in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, to offer him a deal. Robinson was present at the meeting. Rohrabacher wanted Assange to provide evidence that Russia did not hack the Democratic National Committee emails. At the time, president Donald Trump was under investigation as part of the Mueller inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. Rohrabacher told Assange that if he agreed to provide the evidence, Trump would arrange a pardon or protection against extradition. But Assange was not prepared to name the source of the leak. An indictment followed.
  • Meanwhile, in October 2021 news emerged that the CIA planned to kidnap and kill Assange in London.
  • Of the 18 charges listed against Assange, one is simply about measures taken by any journalist to protect a source – in this instance Chelsea Manning. The other charges merely relate to receiving and publishing of information and so violate a journalist’s freedom of expression.

Political solution needed

Robinson was also interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

She told ABC that an urgent political solution is needed:

This case needs an urgent political fix. Julian does not have another decade of his life to wait for a legal fix

She added:

And it might be surprising to hear that from me, as a lawyer, that the solution is not a legal one. It is a political one.

On 17 October, more than 300 doctors sent a letter to then home secretary Suella Braverman and US attorney general Merrick Garland requesting that Assange be freed:

The doctors say in the letter:

It is a travesty that a remand prisoner never convicted of a crime is languishing in Britain’s most notorious high security prison, when he shouldn’t have been imprisoned in the first place. The critical nature of Mr. Assange’s physical and psychological health underscores the need for his immediate release from prison.

The fear is that by stringing the legal process out over years, if not decades, Assange will not survive.

And those implicated in allowing such a tragedy would be party to nothing less than judicial murder.

Featured image via YouTube

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