The Health of Julian Assange: A Case of State-sponsored Neglect

On 25th February Nine Cross reports

It is known that Assange’s removal from Belmarsh healthcare unit was a result of the combined effort by his legal team, public campaigning and a petition lodged by fellow prison inmates. It followed seven months of unofficial segregation in the unit during which he was removed from association without legitimate grounds to do so, and in breach of prison rules and legislation.  There was no established reason for this treatment, making it arbitrary, and also deprived Assange of recourse, effectively throwing him into a lawless hole at the whim of the prison authorities. 

It should be noted, however, that despite the fact he has been transferred out of healthcare to a wing where he can associate with others, reports indicate that he is still locked up for most of the time.

The full force of the state apparatus constantly targets Assange while others just pass through

To show the arbitrary and unfair treatment of Assange, we have compared the way Belmarsh has treated him to the way it treated Tommy Robinson, founder of the English Defence League, where Robinson spent nine weeks there last year, officially segregated. In his case, the governor was said to have personally intervened to ensure he did not miss a social visit, and that he had unlimited phone calls between 9am and 11am every morning, according to reports.  In contrast, Assange, an unconvicted prisoner, presumed innocent, has had devastating restrictions of access to his lawyers, was not allowed possession of his legal documents for a prolonged period of time, or the means with which to prepare his defence – all of which are breaches of legislation protecting the rights of the prisoner.

Comparisons can also be made in the way Belmarsh treated multi-millionaire novelist and former Tory MP Lord Jeffrey Archer.  Archer was sentenced to 4 years in 2001 for perjury and perverting the course of justice.  In contrast to Assange, Archer was convicted by a jury. He still retained the title Lord Archer, and was processed as a prisoner through Belmarsh in textbook fashion. Belmarsh, despite being a Category A high security prison, is also a local prison serving courts in South East London and South West Essex,  and is used as a temporary stop for prisoners of all categories.  Usually, after a few months or weeks, men are released or moved to other prisons (more suitable for their category).  According to Archer’s memoirs, on his arrival at Belmarsh following his sentencing, he was visited by the deputy governor who made this whole process clear, reassuring him that normal procedure should for him mean a short stay:

You will be moved onto an induction block tomorrow,’ she assures me, ‘and just as soon as you’ve been categorized A, B, C, or D, we’ll transfer you to another prison. I have no doubt you’ll be Category D – no previous convictions, and no history of violence.’

Due to procedure, he spent his first night in the healthcare unit under suicide watch.  Although only there for one day, Archer was allowed to use the general exercise area, and mix with the other inmates.  He was then moved from healthcare to a wing, and after 3 weeks he was moved to a category D prison. This was textbook processing.

But on arrival at Belmarsh, Julian Assange had no record of violence, or previous convictions, and the offence of skipping a police bail for which Judge Deborah Taylor sentenced him to 50 weeks, thus ignoring the UN decision that he sought asylum, which means it should’ve been a minor offence – much less serious than the crimes of Archer.  Yet, Assange was made a B categoryprisoner and has never left Belmarsh prison, and was unofficially segregated for many months.  He has been denied basic rights as an unconvicted prisoner since being held on remand, including continued restrictions of access to his lawyers which has impaired his ability to prepare for his historic legal defence. Undoubtedly, he is being treated like a terrorist and murderer.

By simply comparing the way the prison authorities processed another high-profile inmate in Lord Archer, we can again see the exceptional vitriol and impunity of the authorities towards Assange.

. . .

The UK has, in theory, committed to the UN standards for the treatment of prisoners.  Yet, where Assange is concerned, it is behaving no differently from the way Bahrain, a Gulf State dictatorship, treats many of its political prisoners – by refusing to recognise their arbitrary detention,  by ignoring identified health needs, and by refusing access to specialist diagnostic assessment and treatment.

Read whole article in 21st Century Wire including an informative interview with GP and Producer of the ‘Great NHS Heist,‘ Dr. Bob Gill