Julian Assange’s lawyer fiancee says the WikiLeaks founder is in mental turmoil in Belmarsh just days before a ruling on a new US bid to extradite him
- Assange will soon know if the US can continue to have him held in HMP Belmarsh
- If US can appeal against UK court saying he cannot be extradited is expected
- But until the legal imbroglio is settled, the 49-year-old is being held on remand
- Fiancee Stella Moris, 38, said: ‘Julian won his case against extradition to the USA’
For a man who has built his fame – or notoriety – on freedom of information, there’s an irony to the fact that Julian Assange’s computer has no internet access. Its ports, like the keyboard, are filled with epoxy resin.
The near-useless console sits on a tiny desk in a cell on the ground floor of Belmarsh Prison, London, where the Wikileaks publisher has been detained for more than two years.
Soon – perhaps within days – the WikiLeaks publisher will know if the US government can continue to have him held in Britain’s toughest jail. A decision on whether or not Washington can appeal against a British court’s ruling that he cannot be extradited to America is expected imminently.
But until the legal imbroglio is settled, 49-year-old Assange is being held on remand in a maximum-security jail, raising troubling political questions about the indefinite detention of a man who has not been convicted of anything.
For a man who has built his fame – or notoriety – on freedom of information, there’s an irony to the fact that Julian Assange’s computer has no internet access. Its ports, like the keyboard, are filled with epoxy resin
Assange’s supporters claim it shows the US government believes it can bully the British legal system – and humiliatingly impose its will upon a foreign jurisdiction.
His fiancee, Stella Moris, 38, said: ‘Julian won his case against extradition to the USA six months ago yet he remains locked up.
‘He is barely hanging on inside Belmarsh. He is still fighting and committed but this feels like an endless punishment. At times he is in such despair he thinks he is a burden, so suicide is a very real fear.’
At one stage, Assange was moved to Belmarsh’s medical wing for round-the-clock supervision after a razor blade was found hidden in his cell.
Ms Moris continued: ‘Julian is not violent, he is not a danger to society. He is a publisher and this case is about freedom of information. This situation shames the UK’s justice system. It is a blight on the UK’s global reputation.
‘It is unacceptable for a foreign power to be able tell Britain what to do. It’s time for President Joe Biden to drop the charges against Julian and Boris Johnson should ask him to do so at the G7 meeting in Cornwall this week. Hopefully then, justice will prevail.’
Assange is wanted in America on 17 charges under the Espionage Act and one of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.
All relate to the leak of 700,000 classified documents handed to WikiLeaks by former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning) in 2010.
His fiancee, Stella Moris (pictured with her sons), 38, said: ‘Julian won his case against extradition to the USA six months ago yet he remains locked up’
Washington says the leak endangered the lives of American agents and their sources working in the field. If found guilty, Assange could face 175 years in prison.
He took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 while fighting extradition but was forcibly removed two years ago and is now detained in Belmarsh, where conditions are harsh.
Last winter he had to boil the kettle in his room continuously to generate warmth and stuffed his cell window with books to guard against the wind blowing in off the Thames.
He is confined to a cell of ten square yards for about 22 hours a day, and allowed out only to collect food and antidepressant medication, take a shower or go for his allotted exercise in the prison yard.
Key dates in Julian Assange’s legal battle since 2012
May 2012: The Supreme Court in the UK rules Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face questioning over the allegations
June 2012: He enters the Ecuadorean embassy in London
August 2012: Ecuador grants him asylum, saying there are fears his human rights might be violated if he was to be extradited
August 2015: Swedish prosecutors drop their investigation into two allegations
December 2017: He is granted Ecuadorean citizenship
April 2019: Ecuador withdraws his asylum status and he is arrested at the embassy
May 2019: He is sentenced to 50 weeks in jail for breaching his bail conditions. Sweden reopens a sexual assault investigation and the US files 17 new charges against him
November 2019: Swedish prosecutors discontinue an investigation into an allegation of rape against him
Assange finds it hard to concentrate enough to read but friends have sent him books including the 1930s prison diaries of Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci, who described the physical and psychological torture of jail.
To keep his spirits up, Assange has a cork board on which he has pinned pictures of his two youngest sons – Gabriel, four, and Max, two, born during his seven years in the embassy. He also feeds a pair of mallards nesting beneath his cell window.
In January at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Assange must stay in the UK under Section 91 of the Extradition Act, which relates to physical and mental health.
She found that, while US prosecutors had met the tests for Assange to be extradited for trial, America would be incapable of preventing him from attempting to take his own life there.
The US immediately lodged an application for an appeal. If it is denied, Assange will be free to start his life with Ms Moris and their sons.
If, as seems likely, the appeal is permitted, he faces an even longer stretch in Belmarsh – inmates there have included Soham murderer Ian Huntley, hate preacher Abu Hamza, black cab rapist Jon Worboys and Britain’s worst-ever paedophile, Richard Huckle.
‘For Julian, there is no end date in sight and that’s inhuman,’ said Ms Moris. ‘At least convicted prisoners have hope.
‘He is there only because the Government wants to keep an eye on him. He is in storage, warehoused, while the UK waits to see what the Americans will do next. In Julian’s own words, Belmarsh is a meat processing plant. In no sane world is it where he belongs.’
South African-born Miss Moris met Assange when she joined his legal team in 2011. They began a relationship in 2015.
She said: ‘Julian has no agency over his own life. His days are incredibly routine – they melt into each other.
‘He needs human interaction and mental stimulation. I have seen him in a terrible state, unable to even string a sentence together.
‘It’s tough, navigating life inside. The prison has its own criminal justice system and he has been in trouble [with his guards] for the smallest things such as asking for a spoon when he wasn’t entitled to one.’
She is clear that the majority of the staff guarding her fiance deal with him kindly and she knows conditions would be much harsher in the US.
‘It’s completely barbaric in America,’ she said. ‘Because Julian is considered a national security case and a suicide risk, he would be placed in isolation.
‘Their worst isolation is called special administrative measures. It allows one phone call of 15 minutes per month and inmates are taken out once a day to exercise in an area the size of a parking space with a cage around it.
‘Prisoners cannot hear anything through prison doors which block out all sound. It is like being buried alive. That is what awaits him in America. It’s why we are fighting.
‘The Americans are trying to prove their Espionage Act is the same in law as Britain’s Official Secrets Act, which has never been used against a publisher or journalist. I don’t want to accept this. If you accept it you are lost.’
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