on Tuesday 20 February, 2024

Death awaits WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at US prison, brother tells Riz Khan

WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange leaves Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Britain January 13, 2020. (Reuters)
by : Agencies

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is facing extradition to the US, will not receive the required care in America’s prison system, his brother told Al Arabiya English’s Riz Khan in an interview published Tuesday.

“The expert witness testimony found that if [Assange] was extradited, [it] would likely lead to his death by his own hand or by someone else. So, we know that he’s not going to get the care that he needs in the prison system inside the United States,” Gabriel Shipton told Al Arabiya English.

Shipton, citing examples of previous Espionage Act cases like that of Chelsea Manning, said that Assange would be kept in “very severe isolation under SAMs,” referring to the Special Administrative Measures.

SAMs legally allow the US government to restrict and monitor communication of prisoners who are convicted or awaiting trial, used to a greater extent since the 2001 terrorist attack in New York.

Manning is a former intelligence analyst for the US army, who supplied hundreds of thousands of confidential records on the American war in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks.

Following the leak, Manning was imprisoned for at least seven years, with months in isolation. After former US President Barack Obama stepped in, Manning’s 35-year sentence was commuted.

“Chelsea Manning was kept in a cell, stripped naked, and almost driven to commit suicide... And I think the same fate awaits Julian if he’s extradited to the United States,” Shipton said, speaking from Australia. Manning is no longer in jail.

‘Never-ending’ process

Shipton also provided updates on Assange’s current condition and the ongoing legal battle against his extradition to the US.

Assange, an Australian citizen who for seven years sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK before his arrest, has been held in a maximum-security prison for five years.

“He’s been in a maximum-security prison now for five years. He’s been detained in the UK one way or another for the past 13 years. This whole process is never-ending,” Shipton told Al Arabiya English.

In 2019, the UN special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer, found Assange was suffering from psychological torture, a condition that persists with deteriorating physical health. Despite this, Assange maintains a “fighting spirit.”

“Physically, his health is deteriorating, but he’s still focused and still fighting. And, you know, he still has a fighting spirit. I’m always amazed that he can keep going under these circumstances,” Shipton said.

He added that Assange’s contact with family in the UK prison system is his “lifeline,” cautioning that the same provision might not be made available in a US prison.

“He gets to see his wife and kids around once a week. He gets phone calls with my dad and his wife, Stella. I see him whenever I’m in the UK. I’ll go and see him again when I go over for the hearing next week. So, he does get a fair bit of contact with his family in the current situation, and that really, that’s his lifeline,” he told Khan.

“That’s what keeps him alive. That’s his connection to the outside world... If he’s extradited to the United States, all that familial contact gets taken away from him. And that’s why expert witnesses, at the magistrate level, found that if he was extradited to the United States, it would lead to his death.”

‘Complete, complete nonsense’

Shipton also discussed the critical two-day hearing set for February 20 and 21. This hearing could lead to Assange’s extradition if the appeal is denied, posing a “do-or-die” scenario for him, according to his brother.

“They could rule against him and order his extradition. And we know in the past there’s been airplanes on the tarmac waiting to fly Julian out. And the home secretary has got everything ready to go so that he can be extradited as quickly as possible. So this is a real sort of do-or-die scenario for Julian.”

Shipton criticized the charges against his brother, equating what Assange did to the work of investigative journalism and highlighting the threat to press freedom worldwide.

“Publishing state secrets is what journalists do all the time. It’s sort of the job of an investigative journalist to find out secrets and bring them to light,” Shipton said. “I think, what he has been charged with is the same thing that, say, the Guardian did, or the New York Times or Der Speigel in Germany or Le Monde in France. All of these huge newspapers have written to the Department of Justice, calling on him to drop these charges against Julian. Because of the threat they pose to press freedom around the world. So really, you know, these charges are a complete, complete nonsense.”

The interview also touched on the bipartisan support for Assange in the US Congress and the implications of the US election year on his case.

“It’s hard to know what’s going to happen under a Trump administration. We have bipartisan support within the US Congress and all the campaigning we do, we make sure it is bipartisan because this isn’t a left or right issue,” he said. “This is an issue that affects all Americans. Really. I mean, That’s why you have every single major Press Freedom Association organization and human rights organization in the US calling on the Biden administration to drop these charges because of the threats that it poses to their system of governance. So, really, it’s a bipartisan issue.”