Jailed Wikileaks founder Assange no longer in solitary, health improving

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson and human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson attend a news conference ahead of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s US extradition case, in London. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 February 2020

Jailed Wikileaks founder Assange no longer in solitary, health improving

  • Assange was moved from solitary confinement in the medical wing to a different part of the prison with 40 other inmates
  • WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson: He has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates

LONDON: Jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is no longer being kept in solitary confinement and his health is improving, his spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters on Tuesday.
Assange, 48, is in Belmarsh high-security prison in London, fighting an extradition request from the United States where he faces 18 counts including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.
His supporters had expressed concern about the state of his health after he appeared confused during a court hearing in October, struggling to recall his age and name and saying he was unable to think properly.
Assange was moved from solitary confinement in the medical wing to a different part of the prison with 40 other inmates after his legal team and prisoners complained that his treatment was unfair, Hrafnsson said.
“I saw him about 10 days ago — he has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates in Belmarsh Prison to get him out of isolation,” Hrafnsson said ahead of an extradition hearing that starts next week.
Australian-born Assange made global headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.
WikiLeaks later angered the United States by publishing caches of leaked military documents and diplomatic cables.
Assange has consistently presented himself as a champion of free speech being persecuted for exposing abuses of power. But his critics paint him as a dangerous figure complicit in Russian efforts to undermine the West.
He fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning about allegations of sex crimes which have since been dropped. He spent seven years holed up in the embassy until Ecuador decided to stop giving him refuge and he was dragged out last May.
Earlier, a group of doctors representing 117 physicians and psychologists from 18 nations called in a letter for an end to what they described as “the psychological torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange.”
His father, John Shipton, said Assange’s long confinement indoors had damaged his health and feared that sending his son to the US would be akin to a “death sentence.”
“His situation is dire, he has had nine years of ceaseless psychological torture where false accusations are constantly being made,” he told reporters.


Beating lockdown inertia: French city-dwellers keep fit on balconies

Updated 23 min 58 sec ago

Beating lockdown inertia: French city-dwellers keep fit on balconies

  • France has been under virtual lockdown since March 17
  • The outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in France and sickened 33,000 others, according to official numbers

NANTES, France: As dusk fell over Nantes in western France, dozens of residents of an apartment block came out onto their balconies for a half-hour fitness session to beat the inertia of life under lockdown while the coronavirus sweeps across the country.
Music pumped out as the group put itself through a routine of star jumps, squats and jogging on the spot. The workout caught on after Pierre Planchenaud began exercising alone. Before long, his neighbors wanted to join in.
“It meant everyone could relax after a day where you stay shut up indoors or in isolation,” said Planchenaud, who works in advertising. “It enables people to have a bit of freedom and take their minds off things.”
France has been under virtual lockdown since March 17 and on Friday Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the unprecedented peacetime restrictions on public life would remain in place until at least April 15. The outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in France and sickened 33,000 others, according to official numbers.
Public gatherings are banned, schools and universities are closed and all non-essential businesses have shut down, with people allowed out of their homes only to buy groceries, carry out essential work, exercise or seek medical care.
Stress caused by fear of the disease is compounded by isolation, mental health experts say, and the French government has reported a marked increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.
“We started last night and we’re having a great time with the family. It’s cool,” said firefighter resident Guillaume Ricquier.
Planchenaud leads the workout from a central courtyard, with the makeshift class wrapping up just in time to join others nationwide clapping and cheering in support of the health care workers battling to save the lives of coronavirus sufferers.
“It brings a new energy,” said osteopath Laura Martinez. “We said last night it needs to keep going after the lockdown.”