On The Eve Of Julian Assange’s Extradition Hearing, Doctors Renew Calls For His Freedom

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More than 100 doctors and psychologists from 18 different nations have renewed calls for the release of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from Belmarsh Prison in the UK.

In a letter first published today in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, the 117 doctors and psychologists express concern over “medical neglect” and Assange’s fitness for his legal proceedings.

The Lancet letter affirms the alarm raised by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, and several specialists in the field, that Assange is in a dire state of health due to the effects of prolonged psychological torture.

Assange will front a London court next week, February 24, having endured almost eight in “arbitrary detention”, according to the United Nations.

A copy of the letter has been sent to Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, following an earlier letter by ‘Doctors 4 Assange’ in December last year. It calls on Payne to bring Assange home to Australia for urgent medical care.

A copy has also been sent to the UK Government, who the doctors’ accuse of violating Assange’s human right to health. In a covering note to Marise Payne the doctors urged the Minister to “act decisively now” to remove Assange from Belmarsh prison, before it is too late.

Belmarsh Prison, in the United Kingdom.

“Should Mr Assange die in a UK prison, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has warned, he will have effectively been tortured to death,” the letter warns. “Much of that torture will have taken place in a prison medical ward, on doctors’ watch.

“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. We condemn the torture of Assange. We condemn the denial of his fundamental right to appropriate healthcare. We condemn the violations of his right to doctor-patient confidentiality.

“Politics cannot be allowed to interfere with the right to health and the practice of medicine. In the experience of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, the scale of state interference is without precedent.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer address the UN in November 2019. (IMAGE: GUE/NGL, Flickr)

“Since doctors first began assessing Mr Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2015, expert medical opinion and doctors’ urgent recommendations have been consistently ignored.

“This politicisation of foundational medical principles is of grave concern to us, as it carries implications beyond the case of Julian Assange.

“Abuse by politically motivated medical neglect sets a dangerous precedent, ultimately undermining our profession’s impartiality, commitment to health for all, and obligation to do no harm.

“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.

Our request to others is this: please join us.”

The letter links to a website, Doctors 4 Assange where readers can get more information.

Wikileaks publisher, Julian Assange, being dragged from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in April 2019.

Timeline of a detention

Assange has now been held in arbitrary detention for almost eight years, after being granted asylum in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012. In May last year, that asylum was withdrawn after Assange published a series of leaks that levelled corruption allegations against key figures in a new Ecuadorian Government. He was arrested by British Police inside the embassy and sentenced to 50 months jail in Britain for breaching earlier bail conditions, imposed while Sweden was seeking his extradition on allegations relating to two women.

Sweden has abandoned those cases, however immediately after his arrest the US sought his extradition over the 2010 leak of military files to Wikileaks by former defence analyst, Chelsea Manning.

Assange has been held in the UK without charge while he awaits the outcome of those extradition proceedings.

Chelsea Manning pictured at a conference in Germany in 2018. (IMAGE: Media Convention Berlin, Flickr)

Ms Manning is also being held in jail after refusing to testify before a US grand jury against Assange, arguing she had already provided her testimony at a lengthy military hearing.

In addition to her incarceration, which remains until the term of the grand jury expires in late 2020, while-ever Manning refuses to testify she is also being fined $1,000 per day.

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Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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