Human rights

UK endangers Assange's life by imprisoning him during COVID-19

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On April 12 Julian Assange’s partner Stella Morris revealed that the couple have had two children.

Ms Morris had been part of Assange’s legal team, who regularly visited him in the Ecuadorian Embassy and they began an affair in 2015.

She said starting a family was "a deliberate decision" to give Assange a light at the end of the tunnel while he was a prisoner in the Ecuadorean embassy.

She spoke passionately about the hard decision to reveal herself as Julian Assange’s partner:

I understood that the powers that were against Julian were ruthless and they had no bounds and that is why I feel now that I have to do this.


I feel like Julian’s life might be coming to an end … It’s been ten years of breaking someone down trying to destroy his life and it is a well-known pattern: whistle-blowers, people who expose the powerful, they destroy them and we know when this happens.


Somehow everyone has failed Julian. They have all failed Julian. They have taken every negative angle they can. You can do that to anyone you can destroy anyone like that.

The mainstream media reported on Julian Assange’s new family in their typical prurient fashion, fascinated by the sexual details, while ignoring the fears that Assange’s life was put at risk in an over-crowded prison in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even though the legal persecution of Julian Assange is a clarion call to oppose the global criminalisation of journalism, the Australian media remained comfortably asleep.

Nor did they explain the reason behind Stella Morris' disclosure.

When the UK government announced they would release 5,000 prisoners because of the risks to prisoners from the pandemic, Assange’s lawyers applied for bail. Assange had a history of lung illness; he would be at risk in jail, an environment where social distancing was impossible; he was not wanted for any crime apart from skipping bail to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, an offence which would normally draw only a fine.

To support Assange’s bail application, Stella Morris submitted a letter showing that Assange had a family to go to and a stable environment and children. During the bail hearing on April 8, Morris requested to give evidence anonymously, but Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused to allow anonymity.

Judge Baraitser said that it was in the interests of open justice (a recent concern of hers, it seems) that the family’s names be made public, as the defence had not convincingly shown this would cause any threat to their security or wellbeing.

It was Baraitser’s court order that forced the reveal on Morris, despite her request for anonymity to protect her family.

Vanesa Baraitser is the judge presiding over the Assange trial. She got the job after her predecessor was forced to stand down after her links to British intelligence were revealed and Baraitser was chosen as a replacement.  

During the first week of the extradition hearing in February, Baraitser insisted that Julian be kept in a glass cage, even though the counsel for the U.S. government made no objection to him sitting in the body of the court and she refused to intervene to stop the guards strip-searching and handcuffing him.

She also didn't she prevent the removal of his court papers by the prison guards, washing her hands by claiming she did not have the power to stop them. In true show trial style, every effort was made to portray Assange as a terrorist.

At the bail hearing, Baraitser denied the request by Assange’s lawyers for bail. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trial will not be able to go ahead as scheduled in mid-May. The Belmarsh Court will not be available again until November 20 of this year, so the search is underway for a new time around September and a new court.

As WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson complained on May 4 when the rescheduling was revealed, it looks like Julian Assange will be forced to spend another four months in prison during the COVID-19 crisis.

Hrafnsson said

Four more months in prison is absolutely unacceptable for Julian Assange. In September he will be sitting for 12 months, an entire year, on remand as an innocent man. He could not attend the hearing this morning because he is unwell. This cannot go on.


He has to get out of Belmarsh. He has to join his family, his partner, his children. The hearing this morning was a disgrace. Only a few journalists could attend. This is not open justice. This is not justice. There is no justice for Julian Assange and this has to change.


A day after World Press Freedom Day, Julian Assange remains the only journalist in Western Europe sitting in prison and he is sitting in a UK prison. That has to end.

It was not good news for Assange supporters: he will be kept in the crowded Belmarsh prison during the COVID-19 pandemic for another four months where his lung condition will put his life at risk. In the U.S., prisons are proving to be a major locus of COVID-19 infections.

Craig Murray, a former UK ambassador turned citizen journalist, commented:

“Even before COVID-19 became such a threat, I stated that I had been forced to the conclusion the British government is seeking Assange’s death in jail. The evidence for that is now overwhelming.”

On the positive side, there are hopeful signs that Australian journalists are slowly waking up from their slumbers to the world-wide criminalisation of journalism. While the persecution of Julian Assange is a well-known example, currently, there are 200 journalists like Assange world-wide locked away in prison.

May 3 was World Press Freedom Day, and Media President of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Marcus Strom, called for the release of all imprisoned journalists around the world, including Julian Assange.

There was little to celebrate about the state of press freedom in Australia, he continued"

The police raids in June last year on the home of a News Corp journalist and the ABC offices in Sydney were a wake-up call to the Australian public that our nation’s democracy is at risk because of growing attacks and restrictions on public interest journalism.


These raids were the culmination of almost 20 years of parliament legislating sweeping powers in the name of ‘national security’ which enable government agencies to reach into our homes and offices, into our phones and computers, and intrude into our lives in an effort to hide information from public view and punish those who reveal that information.

The trend towards greater government secrecy has been labelled "the war on journalism" and is being waged in Australia and around the globe in the name of "national security" behind the cloak of "the war on terror".

In this regard, it is striking that Julian Assange is locked up in Belmarsh, a prison built specifically to house terrorists. In court, he was kept enclosed in a bullet-proof glass cage like a terrorist and brought to the Court handcuffed and forced to undergo a strip-search. When you decipher the theatrics, western governments such as the UK continually portray him not as a journalist, but as a terrorist.

For the security states taking root across the world, citizen journalism has become a dangerous new form of "terrorism".

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

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