Julian Assange’s father: My greatest worry is he will die in jail

As his son battles the US’s extradition attempt, John Shipton fears for the whistle-blower’s mental and physical health.

John Shipton, father of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, holds up a smartphone playing paying a video of supprt for his son as he arrives at Woolwich Crown Court in southeast London on February 24, 2
John Shipton, father of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrives at Woolwich Crown Court in southeast London on February 24, 2020, to attend the extradition hearing [Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP]

The extradition hearing of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange started one week ago at Woolwich Crown Court in southeast London and wrapped up on Friday.

It is set to resume on May 18.

Assange, an Australian citizen who is currently being detained in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison in London, was arrested in the English capital in April, after being evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy where he was kept for more than seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden on charges of rape.

The rape charges were subsequently dropped.

In June last year, the United States requested the United Kingdom to extradite Assange.

The 48-year-old has been indicted on 17 counts of violating the 1917 US Espionage Act.

He is accused of conspiring with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to obtain and disclose information.

In 2019 US Vice President Mike Pence described it as “one of the greatest compromises of classified information in American history”.

But free speech activists see his arrest as an assault on freedom of information and a potential threat for journalists.

Born to Christine Hawkins and John Shipton on 3 July 1971, Julian Assange took the name of his stepfather Brett Assange.

Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, spoke to Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera: What is your biggest worry regarding your son’s current extradition hearing and his overall health?

Shipton: My greatest worry is that after 10 years of steadily increasing persecution, Julian will die in jail. 

Al Jazeera: How much contact have you had with your son since he was first granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012? Have you managed to have any private conversations since then?

Shipton: Each Christmas I would spend 10 days with Julian as allowed by the Ecuadorian embassy.

I have not had a private conversation with him since 2012. A private conversation has not been possible because of surveillance – a matter that is now being investigated by the Spanish courts.

If something we wanted to discuss was private, we wrote notes to each other. 

Al Jazeera: Have you observed changes in your son’s personality and physical health? 

Shipton: Julian has lost about 15 kilograms of weight since leaving the Ecuadorian embassy in April. He has also become vulnerable to clinical depression.

Al Jazeera: How do you characterise the treatment of your son by global powers?

Shipton: There have been ceaseless calumnies, smears and abrogation of human rights laws and increasing intensity of surveillance with each and every moment recorded on video.

Al Jazeera: What impact did the accusations of rape have on your son? 

Shipton: There were no criminal charges. Allegations were made upon falsified witness testimony. 

Al Jazeera: How would you describe Australia’s support?

Shipton: The Australian government’s assistance has been negligible. This has been demonstrated by silence over many distortions of procedure, falsification of witness testimony, abrogation of human rights and abandoning agreed-upon international obligations while continuously repeating vacuous mantras about due process and non-interference with the legal systems of other countries.

At the same time, the Australian government announces support for the elevation of Juan Guaido to the Presidency of Venezuela. 

Al Jazeera: What are you demanding of the international community? 

Shipton: Of necessity, international laws need international support. Julian’s persecution is a global matter. In this matter, the only international law that has been observed is the extradition treaty between the US and the UK. All other international law has been abrogated. Abrogation of treaty obligations and human rights conventions reduce us to savagery. 

Al Jazeera: You have previously quoted the Australian human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce who said: “If you arrest Assange, we will fight this until the end of time.” Who is going to continue fighting for your son?

Shipton: All the wonderful people worldwide who are fighting with constant determination. The talented lawyers, journalists and doctors, parliamentarians, publishers and publications – all those who understand the meaning of intimidation and oppression of comment and discussion globally inherent in Julian’s persecution, as well as Julian’s family.

Al Jazeera: What are your hopes for Julian Assange?

Shipton: My dream for him is that he should enjoy the ordinary commonalities of life, that he enjoys the company and care of his children, family and friends. I also dream that he should feel the sun’s warmth and walk freely among people. 

The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Source: Al Jazeera