Prison Covid spread poses serious threat to Assange’s health

Covid-19 infection rates have soared to 25% among inmates at Belmarsh prison where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is being held, putting his already delicate health at further risk. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), along with its American, Australian and UK affiliates, condemns his treatment and denounces the judicial and political harassment against him.

A demonstrator protests outside of the Old Bailey court in central London on September 8, 2020, on the second day of the resumption of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition hearing. Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday failed to persuade a British judge to throw out new US allegations against him, as he resumed his fight to avoid extradition to the United States for leaking military secrets. Protesters gathered outside London's Old Bailey court as the 49-year-old Australian was brought in, brandishing placards reading "Don't Extradite Assange" and "Stop this political trial". Tolga Akmen / AFP

Assange, a member of IFJ Australian affiliate MEAA and holder of the IFJ International Press Card is facing more than judicial harassment. Besides the long wait for a decision about his extradition to the United States, which the IFJ has strongly opposed, he is facing harsh conditions in prison that are putting his health at serious risk. 

Currently, over 25% of inmates have tested positive for Coronavirus in the wing of the prison he is held in while awaiting a ruling over his extradition. 

Assange’s health situation is critical after spending seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK followed by nine months in total isolation. His doctor, a UN representative, described his situation as "psychological torture".

His extradition process to the US has been opposed by at least 40 rights groups in the UK and dozens of global press freedom, human rights and privacy rights organizations, including the IFJ, who repeatedly called for his immediate release.

Facing 175 years in prison if extradited to the US and convicted, Assange is accused by the Americans of encouraging whistleblower Chelsea Manning to break into the government's computer system to provide information containing clear evidence of war crimes, including the publication of the video Collateral murders in 2010. The video showed, via an onboard camera on a US Apache helicopter in Iraq, the deliberate shooting in Baghdad of civilians by the US military on 12 July 2007. At least 18 people were killed in the incident, including two Reuters journalists. 

The IFJ strongly opposes the inhumane treatment Assange is receiving and is planning joint actions with its American, Australian and English affiliates before the end of the year, seeking to ensure the protection of his health and human rights, as well as a fair judicial process.

IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: "Julian's health is still very worrying and no measures are being taken to improve it. His prison conditions are inhumane and a human rights violation. On top of this, now he's facing a higher risk of getting infected by Covid-19. We call again on the UK authorities to release him and stop the extradition procedure".

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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