The plight of Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange is making headlines once again this week after 117 doctors penned an open letter to the medical journal The Lancet.
The group of doctors representing physicians and psychologists from 18 nations called for an end to what they described as “the psychological torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange”.
Next week Assange’s extradition hearing to the United States begins, and two Australian members of Parliament have this week visited London calling for his release.
Assange is currently being held in Belmarsh prison ahead of a hearing on 24 February which could result in him being extradited to the US.
“Assange is in a dire state of health due to the effects of prolonged psychological torture in both the Ecuadorian embassy and Belmarsh prison, where he has been arbitrarily detained according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” Sky News reported the letter as stating.
“Should Assange die in a UK prison, as the UN special rapporteur on torture has warned, he will have effectively been tortured to death,” the doctors claim. “The medical profession cannot afford to stand silently by, on the wrong side of torture and the wrong side of history, while such a travesty unfolds.”
According to Sky News, the letter also sets out accusations of “politically motivated medical neglect” which it says “sets a dangerous precedent.”
“Politics cannot be allowed to interfere with the right to health and the practice of medicine,” the doctors penned. “Our appeals are simple: we are calling upon governments to end the torture of Mr Assange and ensure his access to the best available healthcare, before it is too late.”
A copy of the letter was reportedly sent to the UK government and the Australian minister for foreign affairs, Marise Payne.
This is not the first time that this has happened.
In November, the Doctors for Assange group previously expressed their concern for his welfare, saying he was so ill he could die. They called for Assange to moved from Belmarsh high security prison to a university teaching hospital.
Supporter and former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson last year warned that the health of Assange is causing concern. She said that said that his life “was at risk” and he is “unhealthy” in captivity.
But ABC.net in Australia reported that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is no longer being held in solitary confinement and his health is improving.
It cited Assange’s colleague and spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson as its source.
“I saw him about 10 days ago,” Hrafnsson reportedly told a news conference ahead of the extradition hearing.
“He has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates in Belmarsh Prison, to get him out of isolation,” he reportedly said.
Meanwhile two Australian MPs are in London calling for his release.
Andrew Wilkie, an independent federal MP, said the extradition of Assange would set a dangerous precedent, the Guardian newspaper reported.
“This will establish a precedent that if you are a journalist who does anything that offends any government in the world then you face the very real prospect of being extradited to that country,” he reportedly said. “This is a political case and what is at stake is not just the life of Julian Assange. It is about the future of journalism.”
He was joined in London by the co-chair of the Bring Julian Assange Home parliamentary group, the Liberal National MP George Christensen. He said he had written to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to point out that the UK’s extradition treaty with the US was “imbalanced”. He highlighted the US rejection of an extradition request for Anne Sacoolas, the woman accused of causing the death of motorcyclist Harry Dunn.
The state of health of Julian Assange has been much discussed in the past year.
In May last year Assange was too ill to appear via video link in a court room hearing to discuss his extradition to the United States.
In June then Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed a US request for Julian Assange to be extradited to America.
The US Justice Department had filed 17 new charges against Assange in May 2019, accusing him of violating the Espionage Act after he received top secret data (from Chelsea Manning) and unlawfully published the names of classified sources.
Assange had then made a court appearance in October 2019, where he failed to delay his extradition hearing to the United States.
During that appearance, Assange appeared frail, and found it hard to remember when he was born.
Assange had been on the run for years after allegations of sexual assault charges in Sweden.
Assange has always denied the Swedish allegations of raping a woman and sexually molesting and coercing another in Stockholm. He fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012, after he lost his final plea in the UK to avoid extradition to Sweden.
But Assange was brought into British custody when police entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in April 2019 and dragged him out, after a seven year stalemate.
Assange was then found guilty in the Southwark Crown Court of breaching the Bail Act, and was sentenced to 50 weeks in jail, at Belmarsh prison in London.
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