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‘Symbol of Dystopian Times’: Assange’s Treatment in Belmarsh and Media Sets Dangerous Precedent

© AP Photo / Matt DunhamWikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago - Sputnik International
In a letter to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, a group of international doctors have expressed “serious concerns” about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s health, which could impact his ability to stand trial at an extradition hearing scheduled for February.

Joe Lauria, the editor-in-chief of Consortium News and the author of the book "How I Lost, By Hillary Clinton,” joined Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear Tuesday to discuss Assange’s deteriorating health and how media corporations should be strongly opposed to Assange’s detainment if they care in the slightest about their own publishing protections. 


The letter signed by more than 60 doctors warned that Assange, who is detained in London’s Belmarsh prison, requires “an urgent expert medical assessment of both his physical and psychological state of health.”

“Any medical treatment indicated should be administered in a properly equipped and expertly staffed university teaching hospital (tertiary care),” they said, stating that otherwise, Assange “could die in prison,” Sputnik reported.

“This letter was sent to the home secretary of the UK. No one really expects her to act on this. One must take into consideration that they might not be too concerned about that outcome … that’s pure speculation here, but why aren’t they acting? He has an absolute right to medical care,” Lauria told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

“He’s in a maximum security prison for totally nonviolent allegations,” Lauria said. “He shouldn’t be there. He should be treated. These doctors made it very clear he had a very serious shoulder issue ... he needed an MRI, he … [has an] abscessed tooth and perhaps most significantly, he was suffering from moderate to severe depression.”

According to Lauria, even the doctors themselves were afraid to report on Assange’s condition out of fear of damaging their careers and social standing.

“They feared that the association [with] Assange could harm their livelihood … these doctors were intimidated by the government,” Lauria noted.

The journalist pointed out something he found “even more shocking to me than the condition he is suffering from: there’s only one American doctor on that list.” Lauria also noted that Assange is having “extreme difficulty” preparing for his February hearing on his possible extradition to the US because he doesn’t have “adequate computers” and can’t get enough meetings with his lawyers.

“This is, in my view, one of the most significant symbols of the dystopian times we are living in. This is a journalist who published classified info that revealed war crimes - alleged war crimes, anyways - by the US, corruption by many other governments. He is being punished for that … and the public has been made to be either apathetic or against him for the most part,” Lauria said, also noting that Assange’s case could set a precedent that would subject all American media to charges under the 1917 Espionage Act. 

“Now anyone in the world who publishes American classified information is subject to prosecution under the Espionage Act,” Lauria explained, also noting that simply possessing classified information, and not disseminating it, is against the Espionage Act.

According to Lauria, American media outlets, most of which have reported and continue to report on classified information released by WikiLeaks, should be standing up against Assange’s detainment. However, they haven’t, in part because they are protected by the American government for doing “the bidding of the intelligence agencies.”

Lauria also noted that American media is “conflicted” on Assange’s case.

“The New York Times and the Guardian recently published editorials saying he should not be prosecuted because they see their own situation being in danger. On the other hand, they’re putting out the idea that he’s not a publisher, not a journalist and that therefore he’s fair game. So they have to come clean here and make a decision,” Lauria explained.

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 after being accused of sexual assault in Sweden. The whistleblower maintained that the charges against him were false, and that they served as an excuse to extradite him to the United States, where he is accused of espionage and of leaking thousands of classified documents related to US military operations. However, his asylum was revoked in April.

The following month, he was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison in London breaching bail by seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Last week, Sweden announced that it had dropped its rape case against Assange. However, he is still wanted in the US on espionage charges.

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