Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Julian Assange given the worrying increase in cases of Covid-19 contamination in Belmarsh prison, where the founder of Wikileaks, confined in his cell, awaits following his trial.
As RSF prepared to attend the monthly hearing in the trial of Julian Assange, scheduled for November 26 at Westminster Magistrate’s Court, its representatives learned that it was postponed to December 11. Alarmed by the rapid spread of the coronavirus epidemic within the prison where the founder of Wikileaks is detained, his lawyers considered that it would be too risky for him to go to the room where he attends the hearings by video . This same reason had already prevented him from appearing, remotely, in court during the first confinement .
According to Julian Assange’s companion, Stella Moris, a total of 56 cases of Covid-19 have been detected both among prisoners and staff members in the wing of the facility where Julian Assange is being held. Also according to his information, since November 18, or for nine days Julian Assange has remained confined in his cell 24 hours a day – with the exception of 20 minutes spent outdoors on November 23.
We are very concerned about the sudden increase in Covid-19 cases in Belmarsh prison, which results in the de facto confinement of Julian Assange, alone in his cell,” says RSF director of international campaigns, Rebecca Vincent. His physical condition and his psychological past make him a very vulnerable person, and obviously it is dangerous for him to remain detained in these conditions. We continue to call for his unconditional release, but this situation makes his release on humanitarian grounds even more urgent today. We ask that it be effective as soon as possible. “
Due to his medical history, and in particular of respiratory infections, Julian Assange is at high risk in the event of contamination by the coronavirus. On the other hand, prolonged confinement alone in his cell could resurface his past of mental disorders – including bouts of depression and frequent thoughts of suicide. On November 2, a prisoner who reportedly befriended Julian Assange and was being held in the same wing of the prison building committed suicide . An investigation is underway.
The next hearing at Westminster Magistrate’s Court will be on December 11. This will be the last before the decision on the extradition request, which will be delivered on January 4, 2021 at the Central Criminal Court in London (Old Bailey).
RSF was the only NGO able to attend the four-week extradition hearing held at Old Bailey in September, despite severe restrictions imposed by the court on observers. Subsequently, the court no longer allowed them to attend the monthly hearings remotely. Even though the UK is in lockdown, the only possibility to attend the trial is therefore to go there in person.
The United Kingdom ranks 35th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index established by RSF in 2020.
Copyright ©2016, Reporters Without Borders. Used with the permission of Reporters Without Borders(RSF), CS 90247 75083 Paris Cedex 02 https://rsf.org
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