Lawyers for jailed WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange plan to ask a British court this week for him to be freed on bail in light of concerns sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
WikiLeaks circulated a statement Monday saying Mr. Assange’s lawyers will argue that their client is in “imminent danger” due to the outbreak and should be released from prison.
An individual familiar with the matter confirmed to The Washington Times afterward that Mr. Assange’s legal team intends to formalize the request this Wednesday.
Mr. Assange, a 48-year-old Australian, has been held since April at Belmarsh Prison in London in connection with criminal charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Court proceedings held to determine if he should be extradited to stand trial in the U.S. began in February and lasted four days. They are currently set to resume in May.
More than 330,000 people across 190 countries have contracted COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, since it was discovered in December in Wuhan, China, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO has documented over 14,600 related deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health experts have accordingly encouraged people to avoid gathering in groups and practice social distancing measures, such as maintaining at least six feet of space from others.
Prisoners held in correctional facilities are generally unable to heed that advice due to the nature of their confinement, however.
Indeed, the president of the Prison Governors Association, a trade group representing British correctional workers, acknowledged last week that “there will be deaths” inside U.K. facilities caused by COVID-19.
“We have approximately 85,000 people in our prisons and prisons are overcrowded, so when you have a lot of people in a small area, transmission of disease will obviously be easier,” Andrea Albutt told BBC Radio 4’s Today program, London’s Evening Standard newspaper reported.
Medical professionals have determined that individuals with underlying health problems are more likely than others to die as a result of contracting COVID-19, and advocates for Mr. Assange have argued that he is at increased risk of succumbing to the disease because he suffers from a chronic lung condition.
The Justice Department has charged Mr. Assange with 18 criminal counts related to receiving and publishing classified U.S. material through his WikiLeaks website, including diplomatic cables and military documents. He faces the possibility of being sentenced to a maximum of 175 years in prison if extradited to the U.S. and convicted.
Mr. Assange has argued that he acted as a journalist by releasing the material and should be spared.