URGENT CALL - Release Julian Assange from Belmarsh NOW!

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When this petition was launched in mid-November 2019, the torturous prison conditions being inflicted on Julian Assange was crippling his ability to access lawyers and legal documents which denied him his right to participate in his own defense. That is why the central demand was to move Julian  “to a minimum security facility commensurate with his status of non-violent political prisoner on remand”, to remedy this situation. 

However, the situation has changed. The rapid escalation of the covid-19 crisis in the UK means that Julian’s continued incarceration in Belmarsh poses an immediate threat to his life. Julian Assange’s legal team applied for bail on the grounds that Julian’s chronic health problems made him very vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus. This application was vindictively dismissed by Judge Vanessa Baraitser on March 25th. In this video Wikileaks Editor Kristin Hraffnson discusses how the conditions become more dire for prisoners in UK prisons by the day

As of Tuesday 1st April, sixty-five prisoners had tested positive for Covid-19 across 23 prisons, a tenth of the staff numbers in the prison workforce were in self-isolation, three prisoners had died and all prisons in England and Wales were in lockdown with no visits allowed.

The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAPDC) said prisons should only be housing ‘serious and violent offenders’ during the pandemic, with judgments made on a ‘case-by-case basis’. A spokesman stated:‘

In an unprecedented public health crisis, it is not fair or proportionate to commit prisoners, and staff responsible for them, to try to survive in insanitary, overcrowded institutions devoid currently of independent oversight. ‘People are sent to prison to lose their liberty not their lives.’

Emily Bolton, legal director of advocacy group Appeal, stated, “For the government to leave prisoners to die of Covid-19 behind bars when these deaths could be avoided is like leaving prisoners to drown in Orleans parish prison when the waters rose after Hurricane Katrina… time is running out to avoid minor offences becoming capital crimes, and life sentences from becoming death sentences.

Doctors4Assange released a statement on March 27th demanding Julian’s release from Belmarsh due to increased risk of coronavirus. They stated

Doctors4Assange” are additionally concerned that keeping Assange in Belmarsh not only increases his risk of contracting coronavirus, it will increase his isolation and his inability to prepare his defence for his upcoming extradition hearing, in violation of his human right to prepare a defence. Mr Assange’s lawyers have been increasingly restricted from visiting him as prisons lockdown visitation to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

These two factors are already major contributors to Mr Assange’s psychological torture, and we are alarmed that the combination of Baraitser’s decision, together with increasingly stringent prison restrictions in response to the pandemic, will intensify that very torture. This further increases his vulnerability to coronavirus.

It has also emerged that Julian Assange was one only two prisoners held in Belmarsh for skipping bail. Now he is only being held on remand. Given Julian Assange’s status as a non-violent remand prisoner, convicted of nothing and charged only because of his journalism he must be released from Belmarsh immediately!

This is why the central demand of this petition, which has now been signed by over 41,000 people was changed to the simple demand “URGENT CALL - Release Julian Assange out of Belmarsh NOW!"

Unless this action is taken, the ongoing failure of the UK government and prison service to remedy this situation will be condemned around the world. 

The release of Julian Assange should be part of a broader humanitarian release of prisoners from UK prisons where all low risks prisoners are released to help prevent mass deaths from Coronavirus within the prison system. 

Even under these terribly trying circumstances of the pandemic and lock downs, we can and must use whatever means we have available to link together internationally and build a mass movement to Free Julian Assange and defend democratic rights! This petition is only one element of this campaign. Sign and share but people need to organise in their workplaces and communities to build the mass movement to Free Assange and save his life! 

ORIGINAL TEXT OF PETITION
(Published on Nov 19th 2019 and altered to above text on 5th April 2020)

The signatories of this petition demand that the UK Prison service immediately transfer Assange out of the harsh maximum security regime of Belmarsh Prison to a minimum security facility commensurate with his status of non-violent political prisoner on remand.

Julian Assange was kept in the "healthcare" ward in solitary confinement from late May 2019. After pressure from campaigners, protests, petitions (such as this one), other prisoners in Belmarsh unhappy at his treatment and his lawyers Julian was finally take out of isolation into a small ward in Belmarsh. However this means he is severely limited in his visitation rights to family, supporters and even lawyers and his legal documents. Belmarsh has withheld his ingoing and outgoing mail which included legal documents for extended periods.  He has been unable to contact his lawyers in the US. 

These conditions have two dire consequences for Julian Assange. 

Firstly, they are leading to a further deterioration of his health with potentially fatal consequences. In a statement released on November 1st, The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, stated:

Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life."

On November 25th, sixty eminent doctors from around the world in an open letter to the UK Home Secretary issued the following warning:

It is our opinion that Mr Assange requires 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). Were such urgent assessment and treatment not to take place, we have real concerns, on the evidence currently available, that Mr Assange could die in prison. The medical situation is thereby urgent. There is no time to lose.

Secondly, these conditions are undermining Julian Assange’s fundamental legal rights to understand the charges being made against him and participate in his own defence. Julian Assange is facing up to 175 years in jail if extradited to the United States after being charged under the Espionage Act for his work with Wikileaks in publishing the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diaries, and the State Department Cables in 2010.

Julian Assange himself summed up this in court in a statement to the judge on October 21st:

I don’t understand how this is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case, and I can’t access my writings. It’s very difficult where I am to do anything, but these people have unlimited resources.”

At a November 18th court appearance for Julian Assange, Gareth Pierce representing Assange stated: 

The most important of the impediments that we are facing is Mr Assange’s ability to access what he needs to work on his own case.”

When Julian Assange was denied bail by District judge Vanessa Baraitser on September 13th, she cited that he was deemed a flight risk. Regardless of the veracity of this assessment, this concern would be equally met if Julian Assange was being held in a minimum security facility.

Therefore the decision to keep an unconvicted, non-violent publisher and journalist at Belmarsh under conditions where he cannot recover or participate in his own defence, without justification, can only be seen as punitive and vindictive.

The signatories of this petition object completely to the imprisonment and prosecution of Julian Assange for publishing and journalism. We are concerned that the injustice of Assange’s prosecution is being severely compounded by the harshness of the conditions he is being kept in, which are literally putting his life at risk.

We therefore demand that the UK prison system immediately move Julian Assange to a minimum security facility in the UK, where his health can be better attended to and he can participate in his own defence.

In light of the open letter signed by 65 preeminent doctors asking UK Home Secretary Pritti Pattel, we also urge that this advice be followed and Julian Assange be immediately moved to a tertiary care hospital. If and when he recovers he must not be returned once again to the punitive high security conditions at Belmarsh. 

Unless this action is taken, the ongoing failure of the UK government and prison service to remedy this situation will be condemned around the world.