The Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia
The Hon. Andrew Wilkie MP
The Hon. George Christensen MP
The Hon. Jason Falinski MP
The Hon. Bridget Archer MP
The Hon. Anthony Albanese MP
The Hon. Adam Bandt MP
22 December 2021
Dear Deputy Prime Minister,
We would like to thank you and commend you on your recent statements calling for the US extradition request against Julian Assange to be dropped.
We are a group of over 300 doctors and medical professionals from around the world, concerned about the health of Julian Assange and the health of our democracies. We have been writing to the governments of the UK, Australia and the US since November 2019, warning that Julian Assange is in a fragile state of health as a result of his treatment in the UK pursuant to unprecedented US charges, and that he could die in prison. We have been seeking Mr. Assange’s release on urgent medical grounds, as an unconvicted, nonviolent, Australian journalist and publisher incarcerated in a high security UK prison for journalistic activity. Our letters have received widespread media coverage, including in major news outlets worldwide, and our warnings have twice been published in The Lancet.
We are writing to you now in light of recent reporting that Mr. Assange has suffered what was described as a mini stroke, exhibiting signs of neurological damage. As concerned doctors, including many residing in Australia, we implore you, as the Australian Deputy Prime Minister, to intervene with the UK Government to seek Mr. Assange’s immediate release on urgent medical grounds.
You raise a crucially important point that Mr. Assange has committed no crime, neither in the UK nor in Australia, where the publications for which he is imprisoned occurred. He is guilty of, and charged with, nothing in the UK. Further, the crimes under the Espionage Act he is charged with committing in the US are political in nature. As citizens, we are alarmed that Mr. Assange’s extraterritorial persecution threatens national sovereignty, the rule of law, human rights and press freedom worldwide. As doctors, we are alarmed that the news of Mr Assange’s mini stroke, in the context of dramatic physical deterioration, underscores that his incarceration also threatens his health and indeed life.
It is important to note, as we have been warning for two years, that a cardiovascular event, such as stroke, is a foreseeable and preventable outcome of the persecution that Mr. Assange has suffered and continues to suffer. In our first letter to the Australian Government, in December 2019, to ensure that it was appraised of the medical risks to its citizen incarcerated for journalism, we wrote:
(1) Julian Assange’s case is a medically complex and precarious one for two key reasons:(1) Mr Assange has been assessed as suffering “all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture” by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and his medical team; and
(2) Mr Assange’s medical status as torture victim is exacerbated by a history of years of medical neglect and fragile health in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
[Such a case] entails a potentially precarious interaction of psychological and medical factors… Via immunosuppressive and cardiovascular mechanisms, persistently and chronically activated stress physiology causes susceptibility to a range of potentially catastrophic illnesses and diseases, including, but not limited to, cancer and cardiovascular pathology.
To ensure the Australian Government was also appraised of the risks of its own inaction, we wrote:
Should Mr Assange die in a British prison, people will want to know what you, Minister [Payne], did to prevent his death.
(Please see the enclosed Appendices 1-5 for all correspondence with the Australian Government).
Following news that Mr. Assange had suffered a cardiovascular event, under extreme stress on the first day of his High Court hearing, October 27th, we issued a statement (please see Appendix 6), on December 12th, noting that:
This dangerous deterioration of Mr. Assange’s health underscores urgent concerns raised by Doctors for Assange over the past two years. Therefore, once again, Doctors for Assange calls for Mr. Assange to be released from prison so he can access consistent, high quality, independent medical care – something which is impossible for him to obtain in Belmarsh prison.
On the High Court upholding the US extradition request despite Mr. Assange’s serious medical deterioration, we wrote:
Assurances that Mr. Assange will not be subjected to harsh prison conditions by the very agency that has been plotting to kidnap and assassinate him are farcical. For the High Court to accept such a ludicrous proposition, describing the assurances as “solemn undertakings offered by one government to another”, calls into serious question the independence, impartiality and integrity of the UK judiciary.
Crucially, in its ‘solemn undertakings’, accepted by the High Court, the US Government “retains the power” to impose Special Administrative Measures on Mr. Assange, and to assign him to ADX Florence, two of the harshest, most brutal prison conditions in the US. Both facilities violate the Convention Against Torture, to which Australia is a party, and epitomise the oppressive US prison conditions that formed the basis of the denial of the US extradition request in the first place.
In light of these alarming medical and legal developments, we are writing to you now to ask you to consider the serious state of Mr. Assange’s 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.
Perhaps our concerns were previously dismissed by your colleagues as hyperbolic. They are not. On the issue of cardiovascular pathology, we have been proven right. We do not wish to be proven right on the issue of Mr. Assange’s survival.
We are concerned that Mr. Assange’s apparent mini stroke may be the tip of a medical iceberg. Indeed, his symptoms suggest as much. It is therefore imperative that Mr. Assange be released from prison, where his health will otherwise continue to deteriorate further and where his complex medical needs cannot be met, and that he immediately receives independent, high quality medical care.
Accordingly, we implore you, 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.
Doctors for Assange
Appendix 1: First letter to the Australian Government
Appendix 2: Covering email to Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, to accompany Doctors for Assange first Lancet letter
Sent by email on 17 February, 2020
Dear Minister Payne,
Today, the world’s pre-eminent medical journal, The Lancet, carries a letter on behalf of 117 doctors regarding the human rights and health emergency faced by Australian citizen and journalist Mr Julian Assange.
Mr Assange faces extradition to the United States under the Espionage Act for journalistic activity that is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and under international human rights law.
On December 16, we wrote to you, as Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, urging action on your part to protect Mr Assange’s civil, political and human rights. As our letter in The Lancet notes, to date we have received no reply.
117 doctors from 18 countries are today renewing their appeal. Mr Assange’s human rights to health care and freedom from torture must be upheld. At this late hour, we call on you to act decisively now to remove Mr Assange from conditions which UN authorities have found amount to “prolonged psychological torture” and “illegal and arbitrary” detention.
The letter will be available on the online edition of The Lancet here (in advance of the print edition) when the embargo lifts today February 17 at 23:30 (GMT): http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30383-4/fulltext
Please be advised that a press release has been issued in Australia, the UK and in the United States, and we anticipate widespread public interest.
Doctors for Assange
Appendix 3: Australian Government Reply to Doctors for Assange
Appendix 4: Doctors for Assange Reply to the Australian Government
Appendix 5: Second Australian Government Reply to Doctors for Assange
Appendix 6: Doctors for Assange Statement on News of Mr. Assange’s Stroke