Doctors tell UK authorities Julian Assange 'could die' in jail

WikiLeaks founder should be sent from prison to hospital, some 60 doctors tell British interior minister in open letter.

    A May 1, 2019 photo showing Assange taken from a court in London [File: Matt Dunham/AP Photo]
    A May 1, 2019 photo showing Assange taken from a court in London [File: Matt Dunham/AP Photo]

    More than 60 doctors have written an open letter saying they feared Julian Assange's health was so bad that the WikiLeaks founder could die inside a top-security British prison.

    The 48-year-old, who spent seven years holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London before he was dragged out in April, is wanted in the United States to face 18 counts including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.

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    The 16-page letter, published by WikiLeaks on Monday, said Assange suffers from psychological problems including depression as well as dental issues and a serious shoulder ailment.

    Addressing Home Secretary Priti Patel, the British interior minister, the doctors called for the Australian to be moved from Belmarsh prison in southeast London to a university hospital.

    They based their assessment on "harrowing eyewitness accounts" of his October 21 court appearance in London and a November 1 report by Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture.

    The independent UN rights expert said Assange's "continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life".

    "Were such urgent assessment and treatment not to take place, we have real concerns, on the evidence currently available, that Mr Assange could die in prison. The medical situation is thereby urgent. There is no time to lose," the doctors said.

    They are from the US, Australia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Sri Lanka, Poland.

    Extradition bid

    Assange is fighting a US bid to extradite him from the UK on charges filed under the Espionage Act that could see him given a sentence of up to 175 years in a US prison.

    He used WikiLeaks to publish classified military and diplomatic files in 2010 about US bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    At his first appearance in public for six months, in a court hearing last month, Assange seemed frail.

    He also appeared confused whenever he was asked to talk at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London.

    He seemed to have difficulty recalling his birth date and at the end of the hearing told District Judge Vanessa Baraitser that he had not understood what had happened in court.

    He also complained about the conditions in which he was being kept in Belmarsh.

    It was his first public appearance since being dramatically removed from Ecuador's embassy in April.

    Swedish prosecutors said last Tuesday they had dropped their investigation into a 2010 rape allegation, even though they found the plaintiff's claim "credible".

    Julian Assange, the Espionage Act and implications for free media

    The Listening Post

    Julian Assange, the Espionage Act and implications for free media

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies