Doctors: COVID Infection And Lockdown Are Further Reason To Release Assange
Doctors For Assange sent a letter to United States Attorney General Merrick Garland and the United Kingdom Home Secretary Suella Braverman yet again expressing their concern about the deteriorating health of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The coalition of over 300 doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other medical professionals have repeatedly called for Assange’s release from Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh in London and protested “health injustices” that have occurred as a result of the extradition case against him.
Worsening matters, as Doctors for Assange notes, is the fact that Assange tested positive for COVID-19 on October 8.
“Given his chronic lung ailment, Mr. Assange may be at increased risk of serious illness resulting from COVID infection,” the doctors write [PDF]. “In addition, Mr. Assange’s mental health is placed at further risk by the solitary confinement he has been forced to endure since his positive COVID test.”
The doctors declare, “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.”
Doctors for Assange, an international coalition of medical doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists, previously sent a letter to the UK Home Office before then-UK Home Secretary Priti Patel approved Assange’s extradition to the US for a trial on Espionage Act charges.
“Should [Assange] come to harm in the US,” the group contended, “[Patel] will be left holding the responsibility for that negligent outcome.” They also maintained, “The extradition of a person with such compromised health, moreover, is medically and ethically unacceptable.”
Assange suffered a mini-stroke in October 2021, however, Patel and the Home Office seemingly ignored Doctors for Assange and the health concerns that the coalition raised in their letter.
The WikiLeaks founder has been in detention since he was expelled from the Ecuador embassy on April 11, 2019.
Even though there was a global pandemic that threatened the health of millions of prisoners around the world, a UK district judge Vanessa Baraitser refused to grant Assange bail when his attorneys raised the issue.
Speaking at the Projektraum 145 art gallery in Berlin on October 14, Julian’s wife Stella Assange answered questions, including one question about how Julian could contract COVID in a “high-security prison.”
“This was a frustration always through the six or seven months—I wasn’t able to see Julian during the worst part of the pandemic,” Stella responded. “Julian was never going to be safe from COVID because in a place like Belmarsh prison you have 800 prisoners but then you also have about 500 staff. People coming in and out all the time, going home getting infected and so on.”
She continued, “And when you’re moved through the prison, you’re moving to holding rooms. So they take you to one place, and then they put all the prisoners together, 30-40 prisoners in one room stay there for an hour or 2 hours.”
“Julian was never safe from COVID. He probably got it in a holding room, and he’s been in lockdown in his cell. He hasn’t left his cell since Saturday [October 8] last week. This is Day 7. He’s still testing positive,” Stella shared.
October 8 was a global day of action that included a major demonstration spearheaded by Stella, where somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 people surrounded UK Parliament and formed a human chain.
Stella spoke about trying to convey the magic of what was accomplished that day, but as she said, it is difficult for him.
“He’s constantly within those four walls. His reality doesn’t change. His physical reality doesn’t change. And so, I try to talk to him about even the most mundane things—just like walking down the street and describing what I’m seeing so if he can picture it.”
“After a while,” according to Stella, “years of being within the same four walls or same corridor, everything starts vanishing, everything else. And it was a little bit like that in the embassy as well.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland and the US Justice Department, along with President Joe Biden’s White House, have deliberately avoided addressing any human rights concerns related to the Assange case.
Doctors for Assange wrote to Biden and Garland in July 2021. They did not publicly respond to the coalition's alarm over the abuse that he has endured.
“The critical nature of Mr. Assange’s physical and psychological health underscores the need for his immediate release from prison,” Doctors for Assange concluded in their latest letter. “Only then can he receive the independent, high-quality, consistent health care which he requires, and which cannot be provided in a high security prison.”
“Releasing Julian Assange will also bring to a close a case that is damaging press freedom across the globe and judicial integrity in the UK and the US.”