Human rights Opinion

Questions remain over Assange's stroke, as he is sent to likely death

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Many believe Assange's health and life are at risk due to his impending extradition to the U.S. (image by Duncan C via Flickr)

The details surrounding Julian Assange's mini-stroke in October 2021 remain unclear, as he is to be sent to a hellish prison in the U.S., writes Dr John Jiggens

THE FIRST day of the U.S.'s appeal in the UK High Court against a lower court decision not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, he suffered a mini-stroke. Three Australian journalists, Joe Lauria and Cathy Vogen from Consortium News, along with legendary former SBS news anchor, Mary Kostakidis, watched the hearing via videolink from Australia.

In a recent post, the trio raised questions about whether the UK High Court covered up Julian’s medical condition during the trial.

Cathy Vogan from Consortium News said:

'We saw Julian in the lead-up if not the actual event of his minor stroke. It happened during the first day of the High Court hearing. The Defence lawyer announced that Julian had received heavy medication and wouldn’t make it, but Julian turned up an hour later. This is a mysterious circumstance because we didn’t hear about Julian’s stroke until mid-December.'

Julian Assange’s stroke, which occurred on 27 October, was not announced until 11 December. Vogan questioned the delay. Why was the stroke ignored by the Court? What was the medication Assange was on during the trial?

Former SBS news presenter, Mary Kostakidis, has the same questions.

She said:

There are a few things that are unclear about this whole episode about the mini-stroke and why the lawyers and the court failed to take it into account during the U.S. appeal.

 

I am not a doctor, but I don’t think that symptoms of stroke precede a stroke. They appear during or after, and it is likely that Julian had the stroke just prior to the hearing and his inability to animate the right side of his face and his inability to hold his head up without the support of his right palm would have been the effect of the mini-stroke.

Further, she said:

This may be the reason why his lawyers were told he would not attend the video link due to an increase in medication that was unexplained and which Fitzgerald announced at the beginning of the hearing. The implication, in fact – I think it was made explicit – was that Julian did not wish to attend. I subsequently asked Stella Moris (Assange’s wife) about this, and she told me that Julian had wanted to attend but the prison had not allowed it.

 

When Julian unexpectedly appeared and was obviously unwell or very drugged out, unable to keep his head up, with the right side of his face obviously drooping, nothing was made of his appearance. This is also odd, as on previous occasions the court was certainly able to see him on the video link.

Ms Kostakidis asked:

"Were they unable to see him or was the terrible nature of his appearance ignored. And why would the court be unable to see him when journalists on the link could?”

Regarding Julian's mental state, Mary Kostakidis observed that although he was obviously drugged, Assange was still struggling to exert agency. He did attend via video link, despite an attempt to prevent him from doing so.

She continued:

He also made another decision during the hearing. He rose and stepped out of shot. He gave up propping his head up. He would have known we were all watching him.

 

I have a sense that these two decisions show that though Julian was in a terrible state physically and his thinking clouded, a small part of him refused to be switched off and said “I am alive, I have agency. I want to be present at something so significant to me." And then, "I am not able to control my body: I don’t want to be called that".

Kostakidis concluded:

“The whole episode is very muddy, and it occurs to me that the very reason an attempt was made to ensure that he did not appear, and the court were not able to see him or ignored him was precisely so his newly deteriorated condition and its possible cause would not become an issue. That was certainly the result.”

Mary Kostakidis’s account of Julian Assange leaving the video link is memorably described and imagined. But the meaning of the sentence, "I don’t want to be called that" needs unpacking.

According to Vogan, this incident occurred when the prosecutor was making an argument about whether Assange would kill himself. She thought the stroke may have been provoked by mental anguish.

Put yourself in Assange’s shoes. You are in Belmarsh Prison in a tiny cell, in lockdown for 23 hours each day. The guards have brought you, handcuffed, to a room with a video link to watch this Kafkaesque show trial because you put the spotlight on U.S. war crimes.  

When you read Mary Kostakidis’s tweets from October 27, they seem to confirm Cathy Vogan’s speculation. Her tweets outlined the five grounds on which the High Court allowed the U.S.'s appeal. The fourth ground was that 'the judge erred in assessing evidence of suicide risk’.

The court opened at 10:00 am London time or 7:00 pm AEST. Kostakidis' first tweet about Julian came at 7:33 pm AEST, ‘J not coming. Higher dose of medication. Fitzgerald apologises'. At 8:09 pm, Mary Kostakidis tweeted, 'Julian is here. He looks pretty terrible. Very brief shot'.

At 9:11 pm, Mary Kostakidis tweeted that U.S. prosecutor James Lewis QC was arguing against section 91 of the Extradition Act 2003 (EA 2003) that barred extradition in circumstances where the physical or mental condition of the person was such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him. The prosecutor was making the case Assange’s extradition wouldn’t be unjust or oppressive.

At 9:19 pm she tweeted, ‘Shot of J [Julian Assange]. He is talking. He is leaving. We are told by the video link host he is leaving "for the time being".'

Her next tweet shows Lewis continuing to argue about mental states and the impulse to commit suicide. Before the break for lunch at 10:00 pm AEST, Lewis QC wound up by charging that the trial judge’s decision rewards fugitives for their flight. You cannot argue, he said, that Julian Assange cannot be put on trial because he might commit suicide. "Only one psychiatrist has concluded he was likely to commit suicide", he claimed.

The risk of Assange’s suiciding in the conditions of U.S. super-max prisons, which Lewis QC downplayed, continued after lunch.

At 11:23 pm AEST, Mary Kostakidis tweets:

J is back.

 

J is propping up his head in the palm of his hand… J is struggling to keep his eyes open.

 

J trying hard to prop his head up and keep his eyes open. I can’t see how J can really be able to follow what is being said properly.

Although she had previously noted that Julian looked ‘pretty terrible’this is the first time Kostakidis describes physical conditions that resemble the symptoms of stroke, backing Cathy Vogan’s claim that the stroke occurred in court when Assange left and not shortly before, as Kostakidis suggests.

After the U.S. glibly gave some meaningless assurances, the UK High Court signed off on the extradition of Julian Assange to receive a "fair trial" in a court in Virginia that always convicts. 

Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.

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