The mental and physical condition of Julian Assange has so deteriorated that he could die in a British jail before his February hearing on extradition to the United States, a group of international doctors has warned, reports The New York Times. In an open letter to Britain’s home secretary, Priti Patel, more than 60 doctors called for Assange, the 48-year-old founder of WikiLeaks, to be transferred from the high-security Belmarsh prison in London to a university teaching hospital to receive an expert medical assessment.
“Were such urgent assessment and treatment not to take place, we have real concerns, on the evidence currently available, that Assange could die in prison,” the letter said. “The medical situation is thereby urgent. There is no time to lose.” Their assessment is based on witness accounts from an October hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, in which Assange was described as “exhibiting the symptoms of a torture victim.” The analysis was corroborated this month by Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, who wrote a report about Assange’s health, warning that his life was at risk.
“What we have seen from the UK government is outright contempt for Assange’s rights and integrity,” Melzer wrote in the report. “Despite the medical urgency of my appeal, and the seriousness of the alleged violations, the UK has not undertaken any measures of investigation, prevention and redress required under international law.”
The doctors’ letter describes how, over the years, Assange was threatened with arrest if he left the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to seek treatment for a series of ailments, including a cracked molar and shoulder stiffness. In 2015, a trauma and psychosocial expert who assessed Assange’s condition at the embassy concluded that he was suffering from moderately severe depression.
Assange is serving a 50-week prison sentence for jumping bail, imposed after he took refuge in Ecuador’s Embassy seven years ago. He faces espionage charges in the United States for publishing classified military and diplomatic documents. Last week, the Swedish authorities dropped a long-running investigation into a rape allegation against Assange after prosecutors concluded that too much time had elapsed since the events in question.
Richard Galpin, a BBC journalist present at Assange’s court hearing in October, described the WikiLeaks founder as ‘frail- looking’ and said Assange had struggled to remember when he was born. Doctors who carried out medical assessments on Assange last year while he was in the Ecuadorean Embassy warned that his time there was ‘dangerous to his physical and mental health’ and a ‘clear infringement to his human right to health care’.
The doctors who signed the open letter to Patel this week said they had done so out of a professional duty to report suspected torture. “We wish to put on record, as medical doctors, our collective serious concerns and to draw the attention of the public and the world to this grave situation,” they wrote.