- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2019

More than 100 medical doctors co-signed a letter released Tuesday urging the Australian government to prevent jailed WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange from dying in a U.K. prison.

Addressed to Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, the letter is the latest in a series sent by a growing number of doctors concerned about Mr. Assange remaining held at Belmarsh Prison in London pending efforts by the Department of Justice to have him extradited him to the U.S.

Mr. Assange, a 48-year-old Australian native, has been jailed at Belmarsh since April after spending the previous several years confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He is wanted in the U.S. for charges related to soliciting and publishing classified material through his WikiLeaks website, and he faces decades behind bars if extradited and found guilty.

More than 60 doctors wrote the British government last month asking that Mr. Assange be transferred out of Belmarsh to a teaching hospital to receive medical treatment. Dozens more signed on to a follow-up letter sent several weeks later, and the latest plea to Ms. Payne has swelled to include the names of 104 practicing and retired medical professionals from a number of countries.

“As Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, you have an undeniable legal obligation to protect your citizen against the abuse of his fundamental human rights, stemming from US efforts to extradite Mr. Assange for journalism and publishing that exposed U.S. war crimes,” the doctors wrote in the latest letter.

“Mr. Assange requires assessment and treatment in an environment that, unlike Belmarsh prison, does not further [destabilize] his complex and precarious physical and mental state of health,” the doctors continued, adding that Australia should negotiate his release from behind bars and allow him to be hospitalized in his home country.

The doctors cite Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, who has repeatedly raised concerns about Mr. Assange’s well-being since visiting him in May and has attested that that Aussie has displayed all symptoms typical of prolonged exposure to “psychological torture” and should be released.

“Unless the U.K. urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life,” Mr. Melzer said last month.

“These are extraordinary and unprecedented statements by the world’s foremost authority on torture,” the doctors told Ms. Payne. “Should Mr. Assange die in a British prison, people will want to know what you, Minister, did to prevent his death.”

Spokespeople for Ms. Payne did not immediately return messages requesting comment.

A spokesperson for the British government told The Washington Times earlier this month that it is “unfounded and wholly false” to say that Mr. Assange has been subjected to torture while jailed in the U.K.

Mr. Assange has been charged by the Justice Department with conspiracy to commit computer hacking and multiple violations of the U.S. Espionage Act related to running WikiLeaks. He has argued that he acted as a journalist.

Extradition proceedings are currently scheduled to start in February 2020.

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