WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange appeared in person at Westminster Magistrates Court yesterday in yet another routine administrative hearing to prolong his imprisonment up to a full extradition hearing at Woolwich Crown Court scheduled for February 24.
Even before the formalities started, Assange’s lawyer Gareth Peirce complained that his legal team had not been granted sufficient contact time to speak with her client at the high security Belmarsh jail and that this ‘threatened to delay the serving of evidence ahead of the trial.’ She added: ‘We have pushed Belmarsh in every way – it is a breach of a defendant’s rights.’
This denial of Assange’s right to proper legal representation has dominated the whole of his imprisonment at Belmarsh, where he has been held since April last year after being seized by the police and held awaiting extradition to the US on spying charges.
Assange’s lawyers have consistently complained that during his detention at Belmarsh he has been denied access to the evidence against him submitted by the US authorities, and his legal team prevented from meeting with him in the prison.
Denial of Assange’s basic right to proper legal representation has gone hand-in-hand with a concerted campaign by the British state to inflict on him what a United Nations expert has condemned as ‘psychological torture’.
Nils Melzer, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture, spoke out after interviewing Assange in June when he reported that he was displaying ‘extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma’ after being subjected to several years of ‘progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.’
Melzer’s warnings about the state of Assange’s mental and physical health were dramatically reinforced last November when more than 60 doctors published an open letter saying that they feared his health was so bad that he could die inside Belmarsh.
The letter to Tory home secretary Priti Patel called for Assange to be moved out of Belmarsh to a university teaching hospital saying they had ‘concerns about Mr Assange’s fitness’ to go through the full extradition hearing.
They based this assessment on the ‘harrowing eyewitness accounts’ of Assange’s court appearance in person last November where he presented a frail figure with difficulties in even recalling his date of birth and demonstrated a complete lack of understanding about the procedures and what was happening in the court.
These doctors were also spurred by a further report from Melzer which stated bluntly that Assange’s ‘continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life’.
None of this concerns the Tory government who have blithely dismissed or ignored Melzer and the calls for an end to Assange’s torture and to provide him with proper legal and medical treatment.
Their only interest is to break Assange prior to handing him over to the US where he faces 175 years in jail for his role in publishing classified documents released to him by the US whistleblower Chelsea Manning, which revealed the atrocities against civilians carried out by US armed forces during the bloody invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning is still facing continued jail sentences for her heroic refusal to testify against Assange.
As Melzer has said: ‘While the US government prosecutes Mr Assange for publishing information about serious human rights violations, including torture and murder, the officials responsible for these crimes continue to enjoy impunity.’
The Tories won’t release Assange from the Belmarsh hell-hole except to hand him over to the US where he faces a lifetime of exactly the same treatment as a warning to anyone who dares reveal the truth about imperialism’s bloody wars, executions and torture campaigns against the people of the world. Indeed, the Tories are complicit in all the crimes against humanity committed by US imperialism.
The only way to put an end to the inhuman torture of Assange and stop his extradition to almost certain death at the hands of US imperialism is for the working class to demand that the TUC organise demonstrations and a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers government that will free him immediately and bring the real criminals to justice.