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Assange torture must end: Doctors

Julian Assange is currently being held in the high security Belmarsh Prison in London, facing extradition to the US
A file photo of Julian Assange
A file photo of Julian Assange
(AP photo)

Amit Roy   |   London   |   Published 17.02.20, 07:58 PM

A group of 117 doctors and psychologists have written an open letter to The Lancet medical journal in London, calling for an end to “the psychological torture and medical neglect” of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

Assange, 48, is currently being held in the high security Belmarsh Prison in London, facing extradition to the US, where his supporters fear he will be jailed for the rest of his life for revealing files embarrassing to the administration.

“Should Assange die in a UK prison, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (Nils Melzer) has warned, he will have effectively been tortured to death,” the letter states.

“Much of that torture will have taken place in a prison medical ward, on doctors’ watch.

“The medical profession cannot afford to stand silently by, on the wrong side of torture and the wrong side of history, while such a travesty unfolds.”

Assange, who had been wanted in Sweden on rape charges — these have now been dropped — sought shelter in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years from 19 June 2012 until he was hauled out unceremoniously by police on 11 April 2019. He has been in prison since then, first for breaching bail conditions. , and then while awaiting the outcome of the extradition demand from the US.

The Lancet Letter has been signed, among others, by Stephen Frost, Lissa Johnson, Jill Stein and William Frost from “Doctors for Assange”.

In the letter, headed “End torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange”, they point out: “Our group currently numbers 117 doctors, representing 18 countries.”

The strongly worded letter states: “We condemn the torture of Assange. We condemn the denial of his fundamental right to appropriate health care. We condemn the climate of fear surrounding the provision of health care to him. We condemn the violations of his right to doctor–patient confidentiality.

“Politics cannot be allowed to interfere with the right to health and the practice of medicine. In the experience of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the scale of state interference is without precedent: ‘In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.’

“This politicisation of foundational medical principles is of grave concern to us, as it carries implications beyond the case of Assange. Abuse by politically motivated medical neglect sets a dangerous precedent, whereby the medical profession can be manipulated as a political tool, ultimately undermining our profession’s impartiality, commitment to health for all, and obligation to do no harm.”

Even the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has conceded that the extradition treaty between the US and the UK is biased in favour of America.

Public opinion is very hostile to America at the moment because of the refusal of the United States to send back Anne Sacoolas, a CIA operative and the wife of a US government employee working at the United States Air Force listening station at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire. While driving on the wrong side the road, she knocked down and killed a 19-year-old local motorcyclist, Harry Dunn. Sacoolas fled Britain using her diplomatic immunity and is not willing to return to face a charge of causing death by dangerous driving.

The US administration wants to extradite Assange but has rejected Britain’s call to have Sacoolas sent back.

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