- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Julian Assange, the jailed founder and publisher of WikiLeaks, has seen his health improve ahead of his upcoming extradition trial, the website’s top editor told reporters Tuesday.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson discussed his colleague’s condition during a news conference held in advance of Mr. Assange’s trial commencing in London next week.

Mr. Assange, a 48-year-old Australian, has been jailed in the U.K. since last April in connection with criminal charges brought against him by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Responding to a reporter’s question about Mr. Assange’s health, Mr. Hrafnsson said his colleague’s condition has improved since being recently moved into a wing with other inmates.

“I saw him about 10 days ago. He has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team — mostly behind the scene — the general public, and amazingly, actually, from other inmates in Belmarsh Prison who have on three occasions petitioned the governor to get him out of isolation,” Mr. Hrafnsson said.

“So there’s more humanity actually among them hardened criminals in Belmarsh Prison than what you find on the outside,” Mr. Hrafnsson added.

Mr. Assange received political asylum from Ecuador in 2012 and resided inside the country’s London embassy for roughly seven years prior to being ejected last April and arrested.

He subsequently spent several months jailed at Belmarsh’s medical wing, where Mr. Hrafnsson said he was kept in “de facto isolation” until relocated in recent weeks.

Advocates of Mr. Assange raised concerns about his health in the interim, especially after he struggled to recall his name and birthdate during a pretrial hearing last October.

“His health has deteriorated significantly since 2010,” Jennifer Robinson, a longtime lawyer for Mr. Assange, said Tuesday. “He’s been under some form of restrictions on his liberties since 2010.”

Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, said after visiting Mr. Assange at Belmarsh last May that the WikiLeaks publisher displayed all symptoms typical of prolonged exposure to “psychological torture” and should be released. Scores of doctors later cited his findings while pleading with the British and Australian governments to intervene.

Mr. Hrafnsson and Ms. Robinson were joined at the news conference by Andrew Wilkie and George Christensen, a pair of Australian parliamentarians opposed to efforts by the U.S. to extradite Mr. Assange from the U.K.

“I’m a big fan of the Trump administration; a big fan of Donald Trump,” Mr. Christensen said. “But I tell you what I’m a bigger fan of: a bigger fan of free speech and a free press. These are the fundamentals of a democracy. And they are values as a conservative that I want to uphold, and they are clearly under attack when it comes to the Julian Assange case.”

The Justice Department has charged Mr. Assange with 18 criminal counts related to running WikiLeaks, including violations of federal computer hacking and espionage laws stemming from the website’s pursuit and publication of classified U.S. material.

Mr. Assange faces a maximum sentence of 175 years behind bars if extradited to the U.S. and convicted on all counts. His extradition trial is currently slated to start Monday.

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