The partner of jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a weekend interview that he is "very unwell" in London's notorious Belmarsh prison, where he awaits a judge's decision on a U.S. extradition request, and that the government of his native Australia should intervene to secure his release.
"The prison is a dangerous place; suicides and murders are commonplace. He is surrounded by very serious criminals... And there is a Covid-19 outbreak currently in Julian's wing."
Stella Morris, the South Africa-born attorney who has been in a relationship with Assange since 2015 and who is raising their two children, spoke with Sky News Australia Saturday, sounding the alarm over what she said were the "atrocious circumstances" he's suffering at Belmarsh.
"The prison is a dangerous place; suicides and murders are commonplace," Morris said. "He is surrounded by very serious criminals; one in five [is] convicted of murder. And there's a Covid-19 outbreak currently... in Julian's wing."
Assange's lawyers have repeatedly called for his release, arguing that his pre-existing health conditions, which include heart problems and chronic respiratory infections, place the 49-year-old journalist and publisher at a high risk for potentially deadly Covid-19 complications.
Last week, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer noted that 65 of the 165 prisoners currently incarcerated at Belmarsh have tested positive for coronavirus. Melzer has repeatedly called Assange's treatment "torture."
The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says that Assange has been arbitrarily deprived of his freedom since his arrest on December 7, 2010. Since then he has been subjected to house arrest, imprisonment in London, and seven years in political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the British capital.
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Assange has been imprisoned in Belmarsh in what Melzer has called "near total isolation" since April 2019 as he awaits a U.K. judge's decision—scheduled for January 4—on his extradition to the United States, where he is charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for publishing classified U.S. military documents on WikiLeaks a decade ago.
Among the U.S. government materials brought to public light by Assange and Wikileaks are the infamous "Collateral Murder" video showing a U.S. Army helicopter crew laughing while killing a group of Iraqi civilians, the Afghan War Diary, and the Iraq War Logs, all of which revealed U.S. and allied war crimes. Many of the documents published by WikiLeaks were provided by former U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
None of the soldiers or commanders implicated in war crimes by WikiLeaks were seriously punished. Manning, on the other hand, spent seven years in prison before her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in January 2017. Meanwhile, Assange could spend the rest of his life behind bars if he is convicted of all the charges against him.
There are growing calls from around the world for President Donald Trump to grant Assange a full pardon before leaving office next month. In addition to Melzer, former National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, filmmaker Oliver Stone, actress and activist Pamela Anderson, and other leading press freedom advocates are among those urging Trump to act.
"The Australian government should just pick up the phone and speak to its closest allies and show its concern and secure his safe release," said Morris.