This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on June 13, 2022. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons license.
With the UK home secretary expected to decide this week whether to approve Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States to face prosecution for publishing classified information, a group of more than 300 medical professionals elevated its call Monday for the British government to immediately free the WikiLeaks founder or be complicit in his “slow-motion execution.”
“Under conditions in which the UK legal system has failed to take Mr. Assange’s current health status into account, no valid decision regarding his extradition may be made, by yourself or anyone else,” Doctors for Assange, a coalition of representing physicians and other medical professionals from 35 countries, wrote in a letter to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The group noted that Assange’s physical and mental health has been steadily deteriorating since 2019, when he was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and jailed in a high-security prison under conditions that human rights experts have deemed torture.
“During the extradition proceedings, the [UK Supreme Court] heard and accepted medical evidence that Mr. Assange’s mental health was such that an extradition order, if imposed, would likely inflict substantial risk of suicide on him,” Doctors for Assange wrote in the letter, which is dated June 10 and was released to the public on Monday.
“The subsequent ‘assurances’ of the United States government that Mr. Assange would not be treated inhumanly are worthless given their record of pursuit, persecution, and plotted murder of Mr. Assange in retaliation for his public interest journalism,” the group added, pointing to reports that in 2017—then under the leadership of Mike Pompeo—the US Central Intelligence Agency considered kidnapping or assassinating Assange.
Ultimately, the Trump administration opted to continue pursuing Assange’s extradition, hoping to put him on trial for publishing classified material that exposed US war crimes.
Despite warnings about the case’s dangerous implications for press freedoms around the world, the Biden Justice Department has continued pushing the US to extradite Assange to the US, where the WikiLeaks publisher could face up to 175 years in prison for committing a common act of journalism.
“Should he come to harm in the US under these circumstances it is you, home secretary, who will be left holding the responsibility for that negligent outcome,” the medical professionals warned. “The extradition of a person with such compromised health, moreover, is medically and ethically unacceptable.”
“Home secretary, in making your decision as to extradition, do not make yourself, your government, and your country complicit in the slow-motion execution of this award-winning journalist, arguably the foremost publisher of our time,” the letter continued. “Do not extradite Julian Assange; free him.”
In April, a British judge formally signed off on the US extradition request after months of legal proceedings, leaving it to Patel to decide whether to follow through with the order.
Days after the judge’s decision, Reporters Without Borders and 19 other organizations sent a letter imploring Patel to “act in the interest of press freedom and journalism by refusing extradition and immediately releasing Mr. Assange from prison, where he has remained on remand for three years despite the great risks posed to his mental and physical health.”
“His prosecution,” the groups wrote, “would set a dangerous precedent that could be applied to any media outlet that published stories based on leaked information, or indeed any journalist, publisher, or source anywhere in the world. “