As Julian Assange waits to find out if he will be extradited to the US, a new report has painted a bleak picture of the London prison he is being held in, highlighting concerns over inmates’ welfare in particular.
On 12 November, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons published a report on conditions in London’s Belmarsh high-security prison – dubbed ‘Britain’s Gitmo’ – which spells out in some detail the nightmarish environment WikiLeaks founder Assange has been forced to call home since his expulsion from the Ecuadorian Embassy in April 2019.
The report was based on observations made during two “unannounced inspections” conducted in July and August this year. Assange has remained in Belmarsh since Britain’s rejection of the US extradition case in January, which hinged on a psychological assessment that found his risk of committing suicide if sent to face trial in Washington – where he could face up to 175 years in solitary confinement at a supermax jail – was “substantial.”
Inspectors found Belmarsh staff “had not paid sufficient attention to the growing levels of self-harm,” “and there was not enough oversight or care taken of prisoners at risk of suicide,” meaning “urgent action needed to be taken” in order to ensure prisoners were kept safe. Since the inspectorate’s last visit in 2018, there had been four suicides, while recorded incidents of self-harm were four times higher. Figures for attempted suicides weren’t cited, although internal probes into such incidents were said to be “very poor.”
Prisoners judged to represent a self-harm or suicide risk were subject to welfare checks, but wider support for these individuals was said to be “limited,” while assistance provided through the official Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork process was “weak,” with inspectors “not assured that prisoners subject to constant supervision were always kept safe,” no safeguarding processes in place, and the prison’s internal ‘Safer Custody hotline’rarely checked by staff.
The number of recorded incidents of self-harm had doubled due to Covid-19 restrictions, with 315 recorded incidents, involving 94 prisoners, in the 12 months to June 2021. It’s possible Assange is among this number – as Judge Baraitser’s extradition ruling noted, he called the Samaritans, a UK charity helpline providing emotional support to those in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide, on a “virtually” nightly basis, and when unable to reach them, slashed his thigh and abdomen to distract from his sense of isolation.
The inspectorate paints a disquieting picture of prison officers almost asleep at the wheel in respect of vulnerable inmates. “Many staff” were said to have “routinely failed to collect or turn on body-worn cameras,” over the course of the investigators’ visit, and “officers who were supposed to be supervising the most vulnerable prisoners” were spotted “sitting reading the paper.” Moreover, only 50% of inmates hadn’t experienced any victimisation by prison officers, and “significantly more prisoners than in similar prisons” had received verbal or physical abuse from staff.
Inmates are also at enhanced risk of harm from other inmates. The Inspectorate recorded significantly heightened levels of violence since its last visit, despite Covid-19 restrictions limiting the time most prisoners were out of their cells. Data had been collected on violence and use of force, but it wasn’t put to any tangible use, such as developing a strategy for reducing violence. There had been no formal strategic meeting to address violence for over 18 months.
In all, 341 violent incidents had been recorded over the previous 12 months, a year-on-year increase of almost 70, most of the rise attributable to prisoner-on-prisoner violence. This created an environment in which “too many prisoners felt unsafe,” with 60% saying they’d felt at risk at some point during their incarceration, and, when the inspectorate came unexpectedly knocking, one in four reporting that they were concerned about their personal wellbeing. Furthermore, internal figures had been fudged to suggest violence had reduced due to fewer incidents, but in reality, this was due to fewer prisoners being in the jail.
Given this grim environment – in which Assange will shortly be married – it is perhaps unsurprising that a psychological assessment diagnosed him with severe recurrent depressive disorder, typified by frequent suicidal thoughts, “loss of sleep, loss of weight, impaired concentration, a feeling of often being on the verge of tears, and a state of acute agitation in which he was pacing his cell until exhausted, punching his head or banging it against a cell wall.” He thought about taking his own life “hundreds of times a day,” and had a “constant desire” to self-harm or commit suicide.
The assessment concluded that, were Assange held in solitary confinement in the US for a prolonged period, his mental health would “deteriorate substantially, resulting in persistently severe clinical depression and the severe exacerbation of his anxiety disorder, PTSD and suicidal ideas.” At the recent extradition appeal hearing, Biden administration lawyers offered “assurances” that Assange would neither be jailed in the notorious ADX Florence in Colorado, America’s toughest prison, nor subject to excessively harsh ‘Special Administrative Measures’.
Contradictorily, though, Washington’s official legal submissions to the court state that the US “retains the power” to do both. The fate of Joshua Schulte, charged with providing WikiLeaks sensitive CIA documents – the release of which led to then-Agency director Mike Pompeo designating the organization a “non-state hostile intelligence service” – offers a snapshot of what could await stateside.
Court papers filed in January by Schulte’s lawyers outlined how their client had not been outside since entering New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center more than two years prior, and had been held under conditions usually reserved for terrorism defendants, to prevent them communicating with others. Accordingly, when Schulte is moved outside his cell, he is “shackled from head to toe.”
Schulte’s cell was said to be “filthy… the size of a parking space, [and] infested with rodents, rodent droppings, cockroaches and mold,” with no heating, air conditioning, or functioning plumbing, “while sunlight is blocked by a blacked out window,”temperatures fall so low “water in his cell turns to ice and he shivers despite wearing four sets of clothing, five sets of socks, two blankets and three sets of socks on his hands,” and “bright lights are on nonstop.”
A ruling on Assange’s extradition is expected in December. Until then, he remains in Belmarsh.
On the 12 November 2021, Stella Maris posted on Twitter Imprisoned WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange will tie the knot with the mother of his children at a maximum security UK prison, after Stella Moris sued the “creepy” British government for denying them the right to marry. “Julian and I now have permission to marry in … Continue reading “UK Caves, Allows Assange to Get Married in Jail”
On the 12 November 2021, Stella Maris posted on Twitter
Imprisoned WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange will tie the knot with the mother of his children at a maximum security UK prison, after Stella Moris sued the “creepy” British government for denying them the right to marry.
“Julian and I now have permission to marry in Belmarsh prison,” Moris tweeted on Thursday evening, explaining that the UK government had “backed down” 24 hours before a legal deadline.
“I am relieved but still angry that legal action was necessary to put a stop to the illegal interference with our basic right to marry,” she added.
Moris, who has two sons with Assange, filed a lawsuit against Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and Belmarsh Governor Jenny Louis on Friday, arguing that “creepy elements of the UK government” engaged in “unfair, irrational and sinister”behaviour to illegitimately interfere in their plans.
Assange and Moris have been engaged for five years, and have been asking officials at the maximum-security prison for permission to arrange a wedding since May. When they finally received a reply, they were told the matter had been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
As the CPS represents the US government in the extradition proceedings against the Australian-born publisher, putting them in charge of the marriage basically gives Washington veto powers, which is “completely outrageous,” Moris told Democracy Now.
Speaking with The Independent, Moris said the interference with the marriage request was a bid to “break [Assange] psychologically” and that there were no legitimate reasons for it.
“It’s a really basic, essential thing, a human thing, and it’s not for the intelligence services, our politicians or anyone else,”she said.
On the 7th November 2021, Sarah Oliver writes in the Daily Mail
Julian Assange and his fiancee Stella Moris are bringing legal action against Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and the Governor of Belmarsh Prison, accusing them of preventing the couple from marrying behind bars.
They fear the obstacles put in the way of their wedding by UK authorities are linked to a US-backed political war against the Wikileaks publisher and campaigner.
In September it was revealed the CIA had drawn up plans to kidnap or kill Assange during his seven years exiled in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. The agency also spied on his family and friends and led a campaign of misinformation against him.
Stella, 38, a lawyer, said: ‘Those catch-or-kill plans were not implemented but other hostile measures were and this is the sting in the tail.
‘It’s part of an enormous conspiracy against Julian which makes itself felt in all that we try to do.
‘A wedding would be a moment of happiness, a bit of normality in insane circumstances. Julian needs things to hold on to because daily life is a struggle for him in Belmarsh and there is so much uncertainty about his future.
‘Our love for each other is the one thing which has carried us through and being married would be another bulwark in our emotional defences.
‘There is no reason for political interference in what is a basic human right. The CIA revelations show the lengths some agencies are willing to go to in their persecution of Julian.’
Assange, 50, and his fiancee have been engaged for five years, have two children and are both practising Catholics. They have been asking since May for help to arrange their wedding in Belmarsh.
He is being held on remand in the maximum security jail while the US tries to extradite him to face allegations of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Stella is adamant their wedding ceremony would have no legal impact on extradition since his right to a family life in the UK is determined by the fact that their sons Gabriel, four, and Max, two, are British citizens. She also has rights of residency, having lived in Britain for 20 years, although she was born in South Africa.
On Friday, the couple opened legal action paving the way for a judicial review. The case is brought against the Justice Secretary and Belmarsh Governor Jenny Louis.
The wedding stand-off began in May when Stella approached the prison chaplain to ask about arranging a ceremony. After an initial response, no further help was forthcoming. On October 7, Assange formally asked the Governor’s office to agree to a Belmarsh wedding, but he has had no reply.
Amnesty International legal adviser Simon Crowther has slammed the US government’s assurances it would not keep WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in solitary confinement, saying they’re “not worth the paper they’re written on.”
During the second day of Washington’s appeal in London’s High Court to extradite Assange, Crowther warned that the assurances made by lawyers representing the US should not be trusted, pointing out that the country has a problem with respecting basic human rights.
Noting that Amnesty International considers prolonged solitary confinement to be a form of “torture or other ill treatment,”Crowther said, “These assurances are not worth the paper they’re written on because where a state has to give such an assurance, it really is an indication that that state’s human rights record has a problem.”
You wouldn’t have to give an assurance that you weren’t going to hold someone in solitary confinement if prolonged solitary confinement wasn’t so widespread in the US
Crowther also warned that the US government’s assurances “have huge holes in them” and pointed out that they are not legally binding promises. He expressed fear that the US would make an excuse to backtrack on them if Assange were extradited.
“Amnesty are really worried about any kind of diplomatic assurance because it’s not legally binding and prolonged solitary confinement often constitutes torture or other ill treatment,” he concluded.
Filmed over two years across the UK, Europe and the US, this documentary follows 76 year-old retired builder, John Shipton’s tireless campaign to save his son, Julian Assange. The world’s most famous political prisoner, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has become an emblem of an international arm wrestle over freedom of journalism, government corruption and unpunished war crimes. Now with Julian facing a 175 year sentence if extradited to the US, his family members are confronting the prospect of losing Julian forever to the abyss of the US justice system. This David-and-Goliath struggle is personal – and, with Julian’s health declining in a British maximum-security prison and American government prosecutors attempting to extradite him to face trial in the US , the clock is ticking. Weaving historic archive and intimate behind-the-scenes footage, this story tracks John’s journey alongside Julian’s fiancee, Stella Moris as they join forces to advocate for Julian. We witness John embark on a European odyssey to rally a global network of supporters, advocate to politicians and cautiously step into the media’s glare – where he is forced to confront events that made Julian a global flashpoint.
Ithaka provides a timely reminder of the global issues at stake in this case, as well as an insight into the personal toll inflicted by the arduous, often lonely task of fighting for a cause bigger than oneself.
On the 21 May 2021, Nina Cross reported in The Indicter This article is concerned with the way Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, was isolated inside the healthcare unit of category A Belmarsh prison over a period of months following his imprisonment in April 2019. Assange was admitted into the unit in April, readmitted at the … Continue reading “Assange in Belmarsh – An Illusion of Care”
This article is concerned with the way Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, was isolated inside the healthcare unit of category A Belmarsh prison over a period of months following his imprisonment in April 2019. Assange was admitted into the unit in April, readmitted at the end of May and placed in effective solitary confinement in the unit in July 2019 until the end of January 2020.
This article follows those previously published in The Indicter around Freedom of Information (FOI) responses from the prison authorities indicating that the regime of isolation was imposed outside of proper prison rules and law (here and here). This article looks at the procedures and regulations around admission, intervention and discharge from Belmarsh healthcare unit, and makes the case that Assange’s prolonged isolation in the unit amounts to degrading treatment.
Phantoms and myths around accountability
The year before Assange’s arrest and imprisonment in Belmarsh, a prison inspection was carried out in Belmarsh by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Inspectorate of Prisons. The resulting report identified that the healthcare unit was being used for non-clinical reasons, and made the recommendation “Admission to the inpatient unit should be for clinical reasons only. (2.57)”
In response, the prison authorities published the following action plan:
“This recommendation is partly agreed as although the Healthcare manager will work with the prison staff to ensure that admissions to the inpatient unit are normally for clinical reasons only, in exceptional circumstances prisoners may be admitted for non-clinical reasons due to lack of space; in such circumstances, they will be moved out as soon as a space in the main prison is available.
Where an admission to the inpatient unit has been for the safety of the prisoner or others, it will be managed in line with Prison Service Order 1700 to ensure that all alternative locations are regularly reviewed.”
PSO 1700 relates to the management of segregation units. The response suggests that the healthcare unit was used by the prison authority for isolation purposes and the plan indicates that the prison authorities will continue to use the healthcare unit for such purposes should they so choose.
However, when asked how many prisoners have been held in the healthcare unit in line with PSO1700 since September 2018, when the action plan was published, the prison authorities advise that all admissions into the unit have been due to “physical or mental health concerns”.
This is despite the fact that the action plan, marked “completed” by the date of publication, says that the arrangement had already reduced the number of non-clinical admissions. This suggests that the only admissions into the healthcare unit under such arrangements took place before the action plan was published. Alternatively, in the event that the term “in line with PSO1700” does not mean following official procedure relating to PSO1700 but some informal procedure guided by it, or alongside it, how is this meaningfully and transparently processed?
When asked “Are prisoners located in the unit for ‘Place of Safety’ identifiable to healthcare staff through records relating to PSO1700 or other?” The reply from the health authorities was: “No, an entry by the doctor or nurse would be placed in the medical records explaining the reason for admission – this would not be reflected in the notes as PSO 1700 as this is a prison service order and not medical…
The reason of admission would be recorded on the prisoner medical records in free text – there is a drop down that is used also to indicate admissions for ‘Safeguarding and Vulnerability’”
What’s more, when asked what policy exists to provide oversight and scrutiny of prisoners managed “in line with PSO1700” while in the healthcare unit, the prison authorities’ response was:
“The MoJ does not hold any such policy as all prisoners managed in line with PSO 1700 have access to the IMB, who provide independent oversight of the segregation processes in all UK prisons.”
It is not clear why no records show that such a system exists outside of the action plan wording. It does suggest that prisoners may be segregated in the healthcare unit. But how does all of this relate to Assange?
The reincarnation of segregation
The health authorities’ admission’s policy explains that the healthcare unit will admit men from the segregation unit for mental health concerns, and also that it arranges paperwork for prisoners for segregation purposes. A prisoner may therefore come and go from segregation into the healthcare unit but while he is in there for clinical reasons he becomes a patient, no longer officially segregated. However, what if such a patient poses a serious physical risk to others? Ordinarily official segregation would have independent oversight by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), although we know from previous FOIs that the IMB only oversees cases in the segregation or higher security unit at Belmarsh prison. So if different regimes exist for different types of prisoners under the care of the doctors, does independent oversight exist for those that are very restricted and may amount to segregation?
The use of such a clinical and psychiatric space to disappear Assange from view was indicated during his extradition hearing in September 2020. The prosecution medical witness, Dr Nigel Blackwood stated that Assange was kept in isolation in the healthcare unit to protect prison officials from embarrassment following the release of footage of Assange videoed by a prisoner. Blackwood said the governor was concerned about “reputational damage”. However, either he did not carry out a check on Assange’s admission documentation, or he was misled; Assange’s lawyers produced records to show his admission was on clinical grounds for mental health concerns. But Blackwood’s comments nevertheless add weight to the above point, that prisoners could be admitted into the healthcare unit for clinical reasons and be subjected to a restricted regime amounting to segregation without independent oversight.
Had Assange not been admitted under the care of a doctor, he would have been referred to as a ‘lodger’, according to the healthcare admissions policy. It describes lodgers as:
“…occasionally, the prison management team would locate a prisoner without any acute healthcare needs in the healthcare inpatients unit for operational or security reasons. Those prisoners will be described as ‘lodgers in healthcare’ and will not be managed by this policy. Instead, they will be managed by the prison regime of the location where the prisoner would have been located had they not been placed in the healthcare inpatients unit.”
“Prison staff have a common law duty of care to prisoners that includes taking appropriate action to protect them. Prisons have a range of processes in place to ensure that this duty is met. These also ensure that prisoners who are unable to protect themselves as a result of care and support needs are provided with a level of protection that is equivalent to that provided in the community.”
Such individuals often have support when living in the community. Many prison inspection reports identify the non-clinical use of healthcare units for them, while some prisons have units specifically for such vulnerable populations, who may pose no threat to others but are at risk themselves. Assange was not admitted as a lodger with social care needs.
A prisoner with complex behaviour may also be placed in the healthcare unit due to practices around ‘safer custody’.
“The behaviour is so challenging and disruptive that they need additional case management in order that their heightened or exceptional risk of harm to self, others and/or from others is managed within the normal custodial regime. The behaviour will often prompt multiple referrals to Healthcare and the mental health team. Prisoners with complex behaviour may be subject to ACCT procedures for multiple and severe self-harm and/or suicide attempts, or may spend lengthy periods of time in the Segregation Unit or in Healthcare due to extreme acts of anti-social behaviour.”
No such case management was identified during Assange’s extradition medical hearings, which would anyway create a paper trail from the many different interdisciplinary staff affected and likely to include the IMB, or not as the above FOI response has suggested.
Having looked at the procedures under which men can be admitted into healthcare and the systems of transparency, or lack of, around their regimes, we can focus on the fact Assange’s admission was for clinical reasons and his care fell under management of the senior psychiatrists.
This is also confirmed in the healthcare admissions policy: a prisoner with a mental health concern would be under the care of a psychiatrist, and it was confirmed by Dr Blackwood in Assange’s extradition hearing that this in fact was the case.
We can now look at how a care plan could possibly include indefinite unofficial segregation.
Assange’s shadowy care plan
According to the health authorities’ inpatient admission policy, each patient’s care plan is based on:
“Assessment and admission documentation
Collateral information from other professionals
Ward rounds, clinical meetings
The patient’s general presentation and their expressed wishes”
This criteria raises questions about Assange’s plan. 1. How could the reasons behind Assange’s admission into the unit not have been immediately clear based on his assessment and admission documentation? 2. Does ‘collateral information from other professionals’ include the assessment by the UN Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer and his two accompanying specialists in May 2019 who found that Assange showed “all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.”? 3. Did Assange’s expressed wishes include access to all of the activities that he was entitled to such as visits to the gym, library, association etc, a point made in the admissions policy:
“The care plan must include the appropriate interventions used for that service user including their attendance at Chapel, the Gym, and Education etc”
Given Assange was an inpatient under the care of a psychiatrist, his ‘care plan’ makes no sense. In October 2019 Nils Melzer published a statement on the conditions in which Assange was being held in the healthcare unit.
“…since his transfer to the health care unit, Mr. Assange’s state of health has further deteriorated and has recently entered a down-ward spiral which may well put his life in danger. Although Mr. Assange has served his sentence for bail violation and is now detained exclusively in relation to the US extradition request pending against him, he is reportedly held under oppressive conditions of isolation involving at least 22 hours per day in a single occupancy cell at the prison’s health care unit. His isolation is only interrupted by daily walks of 45 minutes, church services, as well as meetings with his lawyers and social visits. He is not allowed to socialize with other inmates and, when circulating in the prison, corridors are cleared and all other inmates locked in their cells…”
No clinical or prison procedures can explain this regime. He posed no threat to anyone and was not under threat himself from prisoners. The question must be asked: how was this regime justified and how was it recorded in his medical records given he was in the unit as a patient?
At Assange’s extradition hearing expert medical witnesses Professor Michael Kopelman and Dr Sondra Crosby provided testimony that Assange’s mental health deteriorated during his isolation:
Kopelman said Assange’s auditory hallucinations tell him things like “you’re worthless”, “you’re nothing”, “you’re dust”, “you’re dead”, and to kill himself. The prosecution argued these were self-reported. Kopelman pointed out hallucinations are always self-reported. 13/— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent)September 22, 2020
“When I saw him, October 2019 he met all of criteria for major depression,” Crosby testified. “It was profoundly impacting his functioning, and he had thoughts of suicide every day, many times in a day.” Met criteria for major depression #AssangeTrial
Blackwood: #Assange spoke to me about the isolation of health care. Said it had turned him into “a hallucinating puppet on the floor”. He was angry about that. Said it was an affront to his intelligence.— Consortium News (@Consortiumnews)September 24, 2020
We return to the question therefore: what sort of care plan could possibly include unofficial segregation, and one with apparently no end in sight?
The figment of a discharge plan
At what point were Assange’s expressed wishes that he return to a houseblock and join the general population? Under the admissions policy he had the right to discharge himself:
“When a patient with a physical illness, primary care mental illness or acute substance misuse problems wants to be discharged against medical advice, they will undergo capacity assessment and when they are deemed to have the capacity to make an informed decision, they will have to sign a disclaimer before being discharged.”
Assange’s capacity was never in question during his extradition hearing medical sessions and records would confirm whether any evaluation resulted in a clinical decision to not discharge him over the extensive period of several months. Why would a patient be denied the right to self-discharge for no clinical reason and for such a period of time? The admissions policy claims that discharge is “at the forefront of all patients’ plans.”
Given the testimonies from Assange’s extradition hearing, FOI responses, statements by Nils Melzer and publicly available prison instructions (PSIs) and health authorities’ policies, it is the belief of this writer that the deliberate and prolonged isolation of Assange in the healthcare unit amounted to cruel and degrading treatment for the following reasons:
No clinical reason has justified refusing discharge at his request
No clinical reasons has justified his prolonged regime of isolation
Evidence indicates that there was no plan for Assange to be released from the unit, putting him at risk of being indefinitely isolated there
No prison procedure or instruction explains Assange’s prolonged location in the healthcare unit
No prison procedure or instruction explains Assange’s prolonged deliberate isolation while in the unit
The deterioration of Assange’s mental health resulted from his prolonged isolation in the unit
Because he was admitted under the care of a psychiatrist he could not be recognised as segregated despite his regime of isolation
He had no independent oversight and was entirely dependent upon decisions made by those authorities preventing him from leaving the unit and which kept him isolated for reasons that cannot be explained either through clinical or prison procedures
In his October 2019 report, Melzer described Assange’s treatment while in the healthcare unit as “harsh and discriminatory”. And it is here we see the truth. Assange was treated in such a way for no reason other than being Julian Assange.
PSI for Adult Safeguarding in Prisons states:
Prison staff have a common law duty of care to prisoners that includes taking appropriate action to protect them…
Abuse is any act, or failure to act, which results in a significant breach of a prisoner’s human rights, civil liberties, bodily integrity, dignity or general wellbeing, whether intended or inadvertent…. This may include:
emotional or psychological abuse – including verbal abuse; threatening abandonment or harm; isolating; taking away privacy or other rights; harassment or intimidation; blaming; controlling or humiliation
institutional abuse – including the use of systems and routines which lead to neglect of a prisoner
Annexe B of Adult Safeguarding in Prisons states that:
Inappropriate segregation of prisoners and excessive use of force, which are not in accordance with the relevant policy, may also be regarded as incidents of abuse or neglect that require a safeguarding intervention of the type described in this instruction.
Regulation 13 of The Care Quality Commissionstates:
“Care or treatment for service users must not be provided in a way that—…
is degrading for the service user, or significantly disregards the needs of the service user for care or treatment…For the purposes of this regulation—’abuse’ means—ill-treatment (whether of a physical or psychological nature) of a service user, neglect of a service user…”
A humane care plan would have followed the standard guidance in the health unit’s admissions policy, and would have included a plan for accessing activities such as visits to the gym, the library, other areas for work, etc. It would have followed the guidance under the Safer Custody in Prison instructions that set out good practice including association and access to normal activities, to avoid isolation. Prison instructions state that depressed prisoners at risk of self-harm should only be placed in segregation in exceptional circumstances. However, Assange was placed under a regime of isolation against these guidelines, and despite the thorough and appropriate assessment undertaken by independent experts in May 2019 (collateral information) indicating that isolation was a high risk factor for further deterioration.
The following table demonstrates how easy it was in 2019 to segregate an individual, either officially or unofficially, in a high security prison healthcare unit. It also shows how casually some prisons segregate/isolate prisoners. Since these reports were published some of the prisons have improved transparency, but others have not.
“The conditions and the regime in the HSU* provided prisoners with an intense custodial experience in which they could exercise little self-determination, and we were concerned that prisoners could be located there without any oversight process or redress.”
“…not all had been admitted for clinical reasons..”
We also felt that the regime offered was not sufficient to prevent psychological deterioration among those who had been segregated for prolonged periods of time…We also had concerns about a small number of prisoners who were refusing to move from the segregation unit, but who were not subject to the normal safeguards provided by Prison Service rules on the segregation of prisoners (prison rule 45) following a Supreme Court ruling.“At the time of our visit, the Bridge unit was also full, leading to one prisoner being segregated on the inpatient unit”
A prison officer we spoke with described the inpatient unit as ‘the extension to the segregation unit’, suggesting the mix of patients and prisoners in the inpatient unit might not have been appropriate
“Stays were generally short, and 77 of these prisoners had been returned to normal location at the establishment. However, …one man had been living on the unit for more than four months.”
“At the time of the inspection, the 12-bedded inpatient CAU housed seven patients with mental and physical health needs. Four of these patients needed multiple officers to unlock them which had a large impact on the amount of time out of cell for less risky patients and meant that prisoners there spent most of their day locked up. A local operating procedure detailed a clear admission and discharge pathway but there was still no therapeutic regime on the unit”
In reality, prisoners spent nearly all of their day locked in their cells with nothing meaningful to do, with little in place to help to prevent psychological deterioration caused by prolonged segregation. “Until recently some periods of segregation were too long, for example, two prisoners had been segregated for over two years. During the inspection, there were 23 prisoners in the unit and the prisoner who had stayed the longest had been there for 154 days, which remained a concern.
“there was no operational framework to determine the priorities for admission and discharge, which could have had an impact on care decisions when the unit was full.” ”
“…we remained concerned at the increasing time some prisoners spent in segregation… average length of stay was more than five months, almost twice the average at our last inspection. Six prisoners had been segregated for more than seven months, with the longest for over 14 months”
“At the time of the inspection, there were nine patients on the unit and four prisoners who were not receiving clinical care, which meant that clinical beds were blocked.”
“In the previous six months, 38 prisoners (ACCT)** case management for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm had been held in the unit, but the exceptional circumstances for holding them in segregation had not always been considered.”
“Admission criteria were not routinely followed, and access could be determined on non-clinical grounds”
“…a prisoner who was currently on an open ACCT case management document had been held in a cell with a broken observation panel, with shards of glass present, for several days…staff routinely made decisions to curtail a prisoner’s already limited regime further without the appropriate authority. During the inspection, we found some prisoners who had not spent any time out of their cells for several days”
“..some were located there for operational reasons or because they were vulnerable”
“We were concerned to find seven prisoners segregated on the underground landing of C wing (C1) without proper authorisation or the safeguards provided by Prison Service rules…There were no evident plans to address the reasons behind the segregation of these prisoners or to reintegrate them into the wider population. Many remained isolated for weeks at a time, and we had serious concerns about their wellbeing”.
For most of 2017, this subterranean area had served no clear purpose and had largely been used to hold more refractory prisoners away from the main wing. Within the last two months, these cells had become the Lambert unit… Governance of these procedures had not been sufficiently robust, and oversight of segregation was too weak.
We witnessed much confusion between staff on the segregation unit and on the wings over who exactly was segregated, why they were segregated and who was responsible for their care
*Higher Security Unit
**assessment, care in custody and teamwork
This table shows:
that the conditions exist within the prison environment to disappear a prisoner, no less a dissident journalist, without scrutiny, by exploiting the health care services.
It shows that prisoners are still segregated with little accountability, despite the laws in place to prohibit this.
It shows that prisoners have and continue to be denied clinical care due to the non-clinical use of healthcare units
It shows that solitary confinement was (and is) common, even before Covid-19 resulted in a regime of isolation for much of the prison population.
We can see the health service is compromised as it tries to work around the prison system, accommodating the demands of the prison authorities. But what is supposed to be a ‘partnership’ in health might easily become a partnership in solitary confinement. Is this what we witnessed in the case of Assange?
For now, Assange continues to languish in Belmarsh while the High Court rules whether the US has grounds for appeal against Magistrate Baraitser’s refusal to extradite him on mental health grounds. The attempts by the authorities to disappear him have only exposed their weaknesses, their compromised nature and the extent to which they are fit for purpose.
On the 20th April 2021, Nina Cross reported in The Indicter on the disparity of security arrangements surrounding Julian Assange Information about Assange’s escort arrangements to and from category A Belmarsh prison for many of his court hearings over the last two years raises some questions. An FOI response from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation … Continue reading “Which Security Companies Have Transferred Assange to Court?”
On the 20th April 2021, Nina Cross reported in The Indicter on the disparity of security arrangements surrounding Julian Assange
Information about Assange’s escort arrangements to and from category A Belmarsh prison for many of his court hearings over the last two years raises some questions. An FOI response from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) shows that escort arrangements for Assange changed over time, with increased security.
It indicates that Assange’s transportation to his extradition hearings in February 2020 at Woolwich Crown Court and September 2020 at the Central Criminal Court was subject to Category A Prisoner External Movements. Other dates indicate that Assange’s escorts were undertaken by SERCO under standard procedures. This suggests that the prison authorities only consider Assange a dangerous flight risk 50% of the time.
This also appears to be the case regarding court security. For case management hearings Assange was treated as all of those facing extradition are treated: forced to stand in the dock in Westminster Magistrate’s Court. However, efforts to present him as highly dangerous were intensified for his extradition hearings. In February 2020 the authorities placed him in a small secure glass dock in Woolwich Crown Court, in the vicinity of Belmarsh prison, used for the most dangerous individuals. Following the first day of the hearing it was reported that Assange had been subjected to abusive treatment by the prison authorities.
“…twice been stripped naked and searched, eleven times been handcuffed, and five times been locked up in different holding cells. On top of this, all of his court documents had been taken from him by the prison authorities, including privileged communications between his lawyers and himself, and he had been left with no ability to prepare to participate in today’s proceedings”.
This showed that to escalate the narrative of monster the prison authorities escalated their brutality. And was this all for show? In October 2019 James Lewis QC represented the prosecution in Westminster Magistrate’s Court and Assange was taken there by SERCO and sat in the dock for his hearing, like everyone else. There was no need for a special high security dock for dangerous killers that day or for category A escort arrangements.
The presiding Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s refusal to allow Assange to sit with his lawyers during the hearing at Woolwich kept the lie going that he was a threat. Even when the prosecution gave no objection to the request, Baraitser stayed on cue with the narrative. We can see that Assange has suffered extraordinarily at the hands of the British authorities for the purpose of impressing the US. Even when that has failed, the mobbing by public officials has been kept going.
In September 2020 Assange’s case moved to the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) in London, where historically serious criminals have been tried and convicted. An FOI response has shown that he became the first person ever to have an extradition hearing there. Holding Assange’s hearing there could serve no logical purpose other than to create theatre, to present Assange as a criminal. Baraitser restricted public and NGO access to Assange’s hearing, barring even legal observers.
On 4th January 2021 Baraitser denied Assange’s extradition to the US on health grounds, and on the basis that US prison conditions would be oppressive. Yet two days later, for his bail application hearing on 6th January 2021, Assange was transported to Westminster Magistrate’s Court from Belmarsh prison subject to category A external movements. Baraitser denied him bail claiming the US prosecutors were appealing her decision and he had a motive to abscond. On giving her decision, Baraitser acknowledged that Assange had sought and been given political asylum (in 2012) by Ecuador, which allowed him residence in the Ecuadorean Embassy to avoid extradition to the US. Baraitser confirmed what Assange had been saying for years.
No conviction, no criminal record, not charged with any crime, his extradition request rejected, why take Assange to court as a category A flight risk? That is not logical in the same way Baraitser’s decision to send Assange back to Belmarsh during a pandemic was not logical, given his deteriorating health and her grounds for rejecting extradition. We can see that all efforts are being made to deny Assange his humanity and dignity. We can see the connivance of officials and authorities, whose legacy will be that they were not fit for purpose. They have brutalised, abused and demonised a journalist to satisfy an alliance with those guilty of crimes against whole populations.
Ministry of Justice replying to Journalist Nina Cross
On 15th July 2020 Don’t Extradite Assange launches a documentary on the torture of Julian Assange, by John Furse Official launch of a film about the state torture on #Assange, a film by @john_furse: Not In Our Name Followed by a discussion with @NilsMelzer UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, moderated by @rebecca_vincent Director of of … Continue reading “John Furse: Not in Our Name”
On the 26th June 2020, marking International Day in Support of Torture Victims, Ray McGovern writes Nils Melzer, UN Rapporteur on Torture, belatedly learned that Julian Assange was being tortured. Meltzer came to realize that he had been misled by the “news” about Assange in the Establishment media, so he did his own investigation. With … Continue reading “UN Reporting on Torture of Assange Banned from Corporate Media”
On the 26th June 2020, marking International Day in Support of Torture Victims, Ray McGovern writes
Nils Melzer, UN Rapporteur on Torture, belatedly learned that Julian Assange was being tortured. Meltzer came to realize that he had been misled by the “news” about Assange in the Establishment media, so he did his own investigation.
With his findings and impressions in hand, Melzer thought that June 26, the International Day in Support of Torture Victims, would be a fitting occasion to publish an op-ed on the results of his investigation. It turned out that his draft was as welcome as the proverbial skunk at a picnic. Here is a note that Melzer appended to his op-ed once it was finally posted — in Medium:
“This Op-Ed has been offered for publication to the Guardian, The Times, the Financial Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian, the Canberra Times, the Telegraph, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Newsweek. None responded positively.”
Beginning of text of Melzer op-ed, (with thanks to Medium):
I know, you may think I am deluded. How could life in an Embassy with a cat and a skateboard ever amount to torture? That’s exactly what I thought, too, when Assange first appealed to my office for protection. Like most of the public, I had been subconsciously poisoned by the relentless smear campaign, which had been disseminated over the years. So it took a second knock on my door to get my reluctant attention. But once I looked into the facts of this case, what I found filled me with repulsion and disbelief.
Surely, I thought, Assange must be a rapist! But what I found is that he has never been charged with a sexual offence.
True, soon after the United States had encouraged allies to find reasons to prosecute Assange, Swedish prosecution informed the tabloid press that he was suspected of having raped two women. Strangely, however, the women themselves never claimed to have been raped, nor did they intend to report a criminal offence. Go figure.
Moreover, the forensic examination of a condom submitted as evidence, supposedly worn and torn during intercourse with Assange, revealed no DNA whatsoever — neither his, nor hers, nor anybody else’s. Go figure again. One woman even texted that she only wanted Assange to take an HIV test, but that the police were “keen on getting their hands on him”. Go figure, once more.
Ever since, both Sweden and Britain have done everything to prevent Assange from confronting these allegations without simultaneously having to expose himself to US extradition and, thus, to a show-trial followed by life in jail. His last refuge had been the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Expect to find almost nothing in the U.S. or other Western media about how a publisher of authentic documents has been set up to spend the rest of his live in prison, but there were some glimmers of truth shining through German, Swiss, and Austrian media early this year. In February, one of the main German TV channels (ZDF) did a highly unusual, and instructive, interview with Melzer, focusing on the sexual allegations in Sweden.
Truth has broken through for those confused about how a publisher ended up in a maximum security prison in London with a one-way extradition ticket to court in the U.S. and the rest of his life behind bars. One of the main German TV channels (ZDF) ran two prime-time segments on Wednesday night exposing authorities in Sweden for having “made up” the story about Julian Assange being a rapist. Until last night most Germans, as well as other consumers of “major media” in Europe, had no idea of the trickery that enmeshed Assange in a spider-web almost certainly designed by the U.S. and woven by accomplices in vassal states like Sweden, Britain and, eventually, Ecuador. ZDF punctured that web by interviewing UN Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer. One ZDF “Heute Sendung” segment (in German) is especially telling from minute 13:00 to 15:30 . The second is ZDF “Heute Journal” (minute 25:49 to 30:19.) Both ZDF programs show Melzer being interviewed, with minimal interruption or commentary, letting his findings speak for themselves about how allegations against Assange were “made up” and manipulated to hold him captive. The particularly scurrilous allegation that led many, including initially Melzer, to believe Assange was a rapist — a tried and tested smear technique of covert action — was especially effective. The Swedes never formally charged him with rape — or with any crime, for that matter. ZDF exhibited some of the documents Melzer uncovered that show the sexual allegations were just as “invented” as the evidence for WMD before the attack on Iraq. … Melzer’s indefatigable efforts to expose what Assange has gone through, including “psychological torture”, met with some modest success ( See: https://raymcgovern.com/2020/01/31/a-must-read-on-assange/ ) in the days before the German ZDF aired their stories. Embedded in that Swiss article (in English) is by far the best interview (See: https://www.republik.ch/2020/01/31/nils-melzer-about-wikileaks-founder-julian-assange ) of Melzer on Julian Assange.
On the 6th June 2020, Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign posted this video on YouTube Dr. Lissa Johnson – Psychologist Dr. Derek Summerfield – Senior Lecturer at London’s Institute of Psychiatry Dr. Bob Gill – NHS Dotor
On the 6th June 2020, Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign posted this video on YouTube
Dr. Lissa Johnson – Psychologist Dr. Derek Summerfield – Senior Lecturer at London’s Institute of Psychiatry Dr. Bob Gill – NHS Dotor