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Doctors warn on coronavirus danger for Julian Assange, imprisoned without conviction, in a coronavirus incubator

ASSANGE EXTRADITION: Doctors Warning on Assange in a Covid-19 Breeding Ground, Consortium News,April 1, 2020 •  In a prison cited for failing to curb infections, Doctors4Assange warn that Julian Assange is at high risk of contracting the deadly coronavirus. According to a report Wednesday in The Daily Maverick, imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is one of only two prisoners of 797 inmates in Belmarsh Prison who are being held for skipping bail. The majority are violent criminals, including 20 percent for murder and 16 inmates on terrorism offenses. The facility was also repeatedly criticized by prison inspectors for a lapse in preventing infections to inmatesFollowing Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s decision to deny Assange bail last week, Doctors4 Assange released the following statement:

Doctors4Assange Statement on Assange
Bail Hearing over Coronavirus Risk,
March 27, 2020  Doctors4Assange strongly condemns last Wednesday’s decision by UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser to deny bail to Julian Assange. Despite our prior unequivocal statement[1] that Mr Assange is at increased risk of serious illness and death were he to contract coronavirus, and the evidence of medical experts, Baraitser dismissed the risk, citing UK guidelines for prisons in responding to the global pandemic: “I have no reason not to trust this advice as both evidence-based and reliable and appropriate.”[2]

Notably, however, Baraitser did not address the increased risk to Mr Assange relative to the general UK prison population, let alone prisoners at HMP Belmarsh where Assange is incarcerated. Nor did she address the rapidly emerging medical and legal consensus that vulnerable and low-risk prisoners should be released, immediately.

As the court heard, Mr Assange is at increased risk of contracting and dying from the novel disease coronavirus (COVID-19), a development which has led the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency of international concern[3] and a global pandemic.[4] The reasons for Mr Assange’s increased risk include his ongoing psychological torture, his history of medical neglect and fragile health, and chronic lung disease.

Edward Fitzgerald, QC, representing Mr Assange, said, “These [medical] experts consider that he is particularly at risk of developing coronavirus and, if he does, that it develops into very severe complications for him… If he does develop critical symptoms it would be very doubtful that Belmarsh would be able to cope with his condition.”[5]

Baraitser’s casual dismissal of Mr Assange’s dire situation in the face of the COVID-19 emergency stood in stark contrast not only to the expert medical evidence, but the proceedings themselves. The hearing took place on the third day of the UK’s coronavirus lock-down. Of the two counsels representing Mr Assange, Edward Fitzgerald QC wore a facemask and Mark Summers QC participated via audiolink. US attorneys joined the proceedings by phone.

Mr Assange himself appeared by videolink, which was terminated after around an hour, rendering him unable to follow the remainder of his own hearing, including the defence summation and the District Judge’s ruling. Mr Assange’s supporters attending in person observed social distancing measures. Overall only 15 people were in attendance, including judge, counsel, and observers……..

Adding their legal voices to these medical and human rights authorities, the day after Mr Assange’s bail hearing, three professors in law and criminology recommended “granting bail to unsentenced prisoners to stop the spread of coronavirus”.[12]

Julian Assange is just such an unsentenced prisoner with significant health vulnerability. He is being held on remand, with no custodial sentence or UK charge in place, let alone conviction.

Doctors4Assange are additionally concerned that keeping Assange in Belmarsh not only increases his risk of contracting coronavirus, it will increase his isolation and his inability to prepare his defence for his upcoming extradition hearing, in violation of his human right to prepare a defence…… https://consortiumnews.com/2020/04/01/assange-extradition-doctors-warning-on-assange-in-a-covid-19-breeding-ground/

April 2, 2020 - Posted by | civil liberties, Legal, UK

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