Julian Assange to apply for bail amid coronavirus dangers in British prisons
From Oscar Grenfell at wsws.org March24, 2020:
“WikiLeaks announced this morning that Julian Assange’s lawyers will file a bail application at Westminster Magistrates Court tomorrow. The attempt to secure Assange’s release from the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison comes amid warnings that the British penitentiary system is at risk of an eruption of coronavirus infections.
A press release issued by WikiLeaks states that Assange’s lawyers “will argue that he is vulnerable to the COVID-19 outbreak in the prison where he is on remand.”
The WikiLeaks’ founder suffers from a raft of medical conditions, stemming from almost a decade of arbitrary detention. He has been denied adequate medical care since his incarceration in Belmarsh Prison began last April. This has prompted doctors from around the world to repeatedly demand that he be transferred to a university teaching hospital and to warn that he may die if urgent action is not taken.
The release cites the calls for Assange’s freedom made by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, along with those issued by representatives of the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe. Melzer found last May that Assange was showing medically-verifiable symptoms of psychological torture due to the protracted persecution and the “public mobbing” he has endured.
WikiLeaks noted the clear dangers that the coronavirus pandemic, which is rapidly spreading throughout Britain and internationally, could have catastrophic consequences across the prison system.
In comments to the Guardian this morning, Dr Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for Europe, warned of mass infections in prisons across Europe and internationally unless the “boldest of actions” were taken.
Carina Ferreira-Borges, WHO director for prisoners’ health, added: “We are talking about a highly vulnerable population in overcrowded conditions and once COVID-19 gets inside prisons, everyone will be contaminated very quickly.”
“There is a risk of a huge mortality rate and unprecedented burden on the national health systems of countries that are already overstretched,” Ferreira-Borges said.
Within Britain, the WikiLeaks press release cited Andrea Albutt, the president of the British Prison Governors’ Association, who has warned there “will be deaths” in penitentiaries. The Prison Officers’ Association has likened the risk in jails to those present on cruise ships. Neil Hardwick, the former chief inspector of British prisons, has called for all low-risk inmates to be released.
On March 16, the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS), an independent legal charity that offers representation and information to inmates, issued a call for the immediate release of a raft of low-risk inmates. They included all prisoners over the age of 75; those over 50 convicted of non-violent offenses; all immigration detainees; prisoners with less than a year to serve and those being held on extradition requests.
In an opinion piece published in the Guardian, Eric Allison, a PAS trustee, documented the horrific conditions in British prisons that make a substantial coronavirus outbreak almost inevitable.
He pointed to a report by the National Audit Office last month, which found that a number of prisons were in physical disrepair, with leaking roofs, failing heating systems and rat infestations. A parliamentary inspection last year found that 10 of 35 prisons did not meet minimum hygiene and cleanliness requirements.
Allison documented the appalling medical care provided to prisoners. He recalled one instance in which a prisoner was provided with a paracetamol after complaining of severe leg pain. It later became clear that he was suffering from gangrene and his limb was amputated.
Allison referred to the fact that Professor Richard Coker, an expert on the spread of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has warned that a coronavirus outbreak may affect as many as 60 percent of all prisoners. Already, two prisoners have tested positive, one at HMP Manchester and the other at a prison in Wales.
Pointing to the risks facing Assange, WikiLeaks stated that “HMP Belmarsh receives 300 new prisoners every month, most of whom are then dispersed to prisons around the country. HMP Belmarsh has a total of approximately 800 prisoners and the highest suicide rate in the prison system.” It noted that Assange should be released, based on the PAS guideline.
Despite the growing demands, the British authorities have thus far refused to remove any prisoners from the penitentiary system. This is of a piece with the negligent response of the Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the pandemic, including its initial policy of wilfully allowing the virus to spread on the absurd pretext that this would create “herd immunity.”
The refusal to release Assange is particularly criminal. The WikiLeaks publisher has not been convicted of any offence. He is being held solely to facilitate an extradition request from the US government, which is seeking to prosecute Assange on charges under the Espionage Act and imprison him for life over WikiLeaks’ exposures of US war crimes, global diplomatic intrigues and human rights violations.”
'founder Julian Assange's lawyer Edward Fitzgerald: Proposed bail conditions: - House arrest - GPS tagged - Authorities be alerted if he even leaves the interior of the house - 12 sureties to offer bail
Always remember, and don’t ever forget, Roy Cohn was Trump’s lawyer when he began his desire to become a Real Estate Mogul.
Oh, gawd’s blood; I’ve been tardy in pasting this together: 2 hrs ago:
— Defend Assange Campaign (@DefendAssange) March 25, 2020
His death will be on their hands. #MoreWarCrimes
And of course no rallies are permitted any longer. From the Daily Mail:
At Westminster Magistrates Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser told Assange the global pandemic was not enough to justify his release.
'I have heard evidence that Assange would consider suicide before being allowed to be extradited to the United States,' she said. 'There is a high risk of extradition.
'No court wishes to keep a defendant in custody, even less so during the emergency we are now experiencing. But Mr Assange's past conduct shows the lengths he is willing to go to escape proceedings.'
'Conditions imposed on him last time did nothing to prevent him taking the steps that he did,' she added.
'At the time he made the decision to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy he was subject to a European arrest warrant. He now faces serious allegations in the US.'
'As matters stand today this global pandemic does not of itself yet provide grounds for Mr Assange's release. This is a rapidly changing environment.
'It is the government's responsibility to protect all prisoners and I have no reason not to rely on Public Health England to help the government do exactly that.
'No cases of COVID 19 having been confirmed in HMS Belmarsh.'
(Attorney Fitzgerald) The lawyer then read out a statement from Assange's unnamed partner who said: 'He's been told all associations in Belmarsh have been cancelled.
'For 23 hours a day he is in solitary. The opportunity for infection of corona are still there because he is exercising with 40 other people in a confined space. All the fears we have have become compounded.
'He may himself die due to increased risk of exposure. All past lifelines of support for him have been shut down. I was told the weekly visits will be cut down and now I'm told they will not take place at all.'
Mr Fitzgerald revealed he had been told 100 members of staff were off work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.