The UK High Court determined on 10 December that Julian Assange could be extradited to the United States to face multiple espionage charges carrying up to 175 years imprisonment.
This is even with the Australian journalist having suffered a ministroke during the court hearings in October.
The decision overturned a prior ruling not to extradite the WikiLeaks founder. The reversal was based on flimsy promises from Washington that Assange wouldn’t be subjected to extreme isolation in its prison system, which health experts have warned could lead him to take his own life.
Yet, despite this assurance, the US also reserved the right to overturn this guarantee at a later date once it has Assange in its grip.
Supporters assert this pledge is weak, especially as the US government had previously considered kidnapping the journalist from the UK or even assassinating him.
For its part the Morrison government has done nothing to assist the Australian son in his plight since he was locked up in London’s notorious Belmarsh prison in April 2019.
However, that was until deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce penned an opinion piece for the Herald on 14 December.
In his article, the Nationals leader set out that Assange didn’t steal any US documents but rather he merely published them. And Joyce calls for Julian to be tried in the UK “for any crime he is alleged to have committed on British soil” or that he be sent “back to Australia”.
And now a group of over 300 esteemed medical practitioners from around the globe, Doctors for Assange, have written to the deputy PM, requesting that he call on No 10 Downing Street to release the multi award-winning journalist due to his dramatically deteriorating health.
On medical grounds
“If we are content that this process of extraditing one Australian to the US for breaking its laws even when he was not in that country is fair,” Joyce asks, “are we prepared therefore to accept it as a precedent for applying to any other laws of any other nation to any of our citizens?”
The deputy PM poses this question in the article, which considers what it means to be a citizen and asserts that any “decent society” moves to uphold the rights of all regardless of their lot.
Notwithstanding his personal misgivings about Assange, Joyce points out the journalist has committed no crimes in this country, or on US soil.
Indeed, the deputy PM makes all the same points that ardent grassroots supporters of Julian have been repeatedly raised.
“As citizens, we are alarmed that Mr. Assange’s extraterritorial persecution threatens national sovereignty, the rule of law, human rights and press freedom worldwide,” the doctors set out in the 22 December letter to Joyce.
Doctors for Assange detail Julian’s deterioration, calling on the Nationals MP “to consider the serious state” of his health, and “the real possibility that a continuation of his unjustifiable detention in the UK may prove fatal, even before any extradition to the US”.
The doctors further make the case that due to his failing health – which has been compounded by periods of prolonged solitary confinement and years of arbitrary detention – Joyce should call on the UK government to release him on medical grounds.
Established in November 2019, Doctors for Assange is currently comprised of 335 doctors.
The group has published a copy of its letter to Joyce online, with appendices added consisting of warning letters they’ve sent to Australian foreign affairs minister Marise Payne over the last years, as well as her replies.
In the first December 2019 letter the doctors sent to the minister, they highlight two reasons stressing why Assange needs to be released.
The first is that UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer has assessed that Assange displays “all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture”, and the second being that this has been exacerbated by years of medical neglect suffered in London’s Ecuadorian embassy.
The doctors have further underscored to Payne that people will be asking her what she did to assist the Australian citizen if he dies in a UK prison.
While in ending its letter to Joyce, Doctors for Assange implore him “as deputy prime minister, to intervene with the UK government to seek Mr. Assange’s immediate release on urgent medical grounds,”
“We reiterate that he is an Australian citizen, innocent in the eyes of the law, and guilty of and charged with nothing in the UK,” the correspondence concludes.