Founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange did not arrive at his extradition hearing in London yesterday due to his deteriorating health.
The 48-year-old publisher and activist failed to appear at a routine hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court. He is fighting extradition charges to the US to face 17 charges of violating the US Espionage Act and one of conspiring to commit computer intrusion.
In 2010 WikiLeaks published a series of damning leaks that were provided by US Army Intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. They included the Baghdad airstrike, Afghanistan war logs, Iraq war logs, and Cablegate. Documents and footage published showed American troops shooting civilians and journalists, exposed corruption scandals, and implicated the US government in war crimes.
Then, in the same year, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for Assange for an alleged sexual assault. Assange denied the charges and said they were a pretext for him to be extradited from Sweden to the US. He surrendered to British Police and was released on bail. He breached his bail and took refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador in London and was granted asylum due to fear of political persecution by the US. He remained in the Embassy for almost seven years. Following a disagreement and possible sabotage by the Ecuadorian authorities, the Metropolitan Police were invited into the Embassy where he was arrested and taken into custody on 11 April 2019.
Since then, the United Nations have claimed he is suffering from psychological torture while in custody. They also noted an “alarming deterioration” in his mental and physical state.
Assange’s legal representation said he has been unwell for sometime and is suffering from a respiratory condition.
As a response, a coalition of Australian MPs, journalists and human rights advocates called on their government to intervene in the case.
Eight Australian MPs, four senators and a number of members of Australia’s legislature, including Andrew Wilkie, George Christensen, Zali Steggall, Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt, are among those who wrote to their foreign affairs minister before Monday’s hearing and urged that a diplomatic representation be made to the UK government to ask that Assange be released on bail.
They said that the risk of COVID-19 in British prisons combined with the delays and disruptions to the extradition hearings is too high.
His legal team and journalists have also complained they have not been given proper access to him over the last few months.