By Paul Gregoire: Sydney Criminal Lawyers Blog.
The US and the UK governments have been slowly torturing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for the last decade via a range of measures, including the deprivation of liberty, prolonged isolation, medical neglect and an ongoing character assassination campaign.
Successive Australian governments have been complicit in this attempt to destroy an Australian son.
Although the current lack of action coming from the Morrison government has been the most damning, as our nation’s closest allies have escalated their pursuit of Assange on its watch.
Following the UK High Court’s decision to permit the US to extradite the journalist last Friday, Assange’s fiancé and the mother of his two children, Stella Moris, revealed Julian suffered a mini-stroke during October extradition hearings, which has left him with signs of neurological damage.
“We reiterate that Mr. Assange is in no condition to undergo an extradition trial”, and rather he should be released immediately, the group stressed.
A concerted assault
Doctors for Assange further make clear that the recent mini-stroke suffered by the Australian compounds the already dire state of his “health owing to his prolonged psychological torture”, which has included subjecting the journalist to periods of solitary confinement and arbitrary detention.
This assertion follows UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer stating, after he visited Assange in Belmarsh Prison in May 2019, that the US and the UK have subjected him to a persistent campaign of “progressively severe abuse” in the media, and on the part of politicians and judicial officers.
“Assange’s health has been seriously affected by the extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he has been exposed to for many years,” Melzer said, adding that aside from physical ailments, the Townsville-born man showed symptoms typical of psychological torture, including intense trauma.
Melzer made his assessment about six weeks after Assange was taken into custody. And over the two and a half years since then, the Australian has been subjected to periods of prolonged solitary confinement, two sets of extradition hearings, and its well established that he’s been suicidal.
The UN torture expert further set out that in two decades of dealing with “victims of war, violence and political persecution” he has never before seen a group of democratic nations “ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time”.
But prior to his being taken into custody in April 2019, the UN had already pronounced that Assange was being subjected to arbitrary detention in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, which commenced in June 2012, and had been preceded by a period of house arrest beginning in December 2010.
The UK High Court overturned a decision not to allow Assange to be extradited to the US by a lower court in January, after receiving assurances from Washington that it would not incarcerate the long-hounded publisher in conditions that would likely lead him to take his own life.
Doctors for Assange pointed out that such assurances are absurd coming from a nation that based some of its case on the since admitted lies of an informant as part of a deal to keep himself out of prison, as well as the Trump administration having contemplated kidnapping or assassinating him.
The US provided its assurances in a diplomatic note marked 5 February 2021, which included that Assange wouldn’t be detained at Colorado’s Florence ADX supermax facility, or placed under special administrative measures (SAMS).
These assurances had to be given, as the US had stated that it planned to place Assange under a SAMS regime in January 2020 court submissions, while former New York warden Maureen Baird testified in September last year that it was almost certain he’d be placed in the Florence facility.
“Inmates were in solitary confinement, technically, for 24-hours per day,” Baird said, in reference to her time overseeing a SAMS unit in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Centre. “There was absolutely no communication, by any means, with other inmates.”
Assange faces 17 espionage charges and one count of computer hacking if sent to the US, which together carry a combined maximum penalty of 175 years imprisonment.
The journalist has committed no crime, but he did severely tarnish Washington’s reputation by exposing its war crimes via the publication of tens of thousands of classified diplomatic and military documents former US Army officer Chelsea Manning leaked to him.
But despite this, since Assange has been imprisoned in London, the Morrison government has simply washed its hands of any responsibility it has to him, whilst its allies – who make up the newly formed AUKUS alliance with our nation – continue to slowly grind down an Australian citizen.
PM Scott Morrison has said nothing on Assange, except for an assurance that he wouldn’t receive “any special treatment” just days after he was locked up at Belmarsh, while deputy PM Barnaby Joyce has finally spoken out this week, stating that the journalist shouldn’t be extradited to the US.
Doctors for Assange
A collective of over three hundred medical practitioners from across the planet, Doctors for Assange has been warning for the past two years that based on the evidence of the toll the intense persecution has taken on his health, Julian could perish in prison.
The doctors consider the assurances that he won’t be subjected to SAMS or be sent to the Colorado supermax prison as “farcical”, when these promises are being made by the very body that contemplated kidnapping the journalist from the Ecuadorian embassy or even killing him.
According to Doctors for Assange, “the independence, impartiality and integrity of the UK judiciary” is called into serious question with its acceptance of these assurances in a manner that saw the High Court describe them as the “solemn undertakings offered by one government to another”.
“The health of Mr. Assange and the health of our democracy, which depends on a free press and judicial integrity, are both in serious jeopardy,” the doctors concluded their statement.
“This shameful and deeply damaging case should be dropped now, and Julian Assange granted his long overdue freedom.”