Julian Assange ‘under lockdown’ in Belmarsh amid coronavirus outbreak

Prison Service confirms ‘further safety measures’ introduced after multiple cases detected

Andy Gregory
Wednesday 18 November 2020 18:27 GMT
Coronavirus infections have been confirmed at Belmarsh, where Julian Assange is being held
Coronavirus infections have been confirmed at Belmarsh, where Julian Assange is being held (Niklas Halle’n/AFP via Getty Images)
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Julian Assange has been placed in lockdown at Belmarsh prison after a coronavirus outbreak was detected in his block.

The Wikileaks founder said all exercise has been stopped, while showers have been prohibited and meals are to be provided directly to prisoners in their cells.

Mr Assange, who has been held at the London prison since April 2019, said he and a number of fellow inmates had received a letter from the governor notifying them that authorities had identified several Covid-19 cases.

All prisoners and staff are to be swabbed to detect for coronavirus in the next 48 hours, he said.

A Prison Service spokesperson confirmed that “further safety measures” had been introduced following a number of positive cases, and the PA news agency reports that one wing of the prison is affected.

Mr Assange is currently awaiting the judgement from 4 January hearing on his possible extradition to the US, where he faces a possible maximum sentence of 175 years in jail if convicted.

Among the 18 charges, he is accused of conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law over the release of leaked security cables.

Lawyers for Mr Assange – who has served a 50-week sentence in Belmarsh for breaching bail conditions by fleeing to the Ecuadorian embassy – have said he should be granted bail because of the pandemic, as he has suffered from respiratory infections and heart problems.

But a judge has ordered him to be kept in prison because he is considered a flight risk. With court backlogs exacerbated by the pandemic, new legislation has been introduced to allow prisoners to be held in custody for longer before trial.

His partner Stella Moris, the mother of their two young children, said: “Keeping Julian in the UK's harshest prison, exposed to a deadly virus and away from his family is not only cruel, it offends British values and democracy itself.

“He is a political prisoner being held on behalf of a foreign nation, whose war crimes he exposed.

“I am extremely worried about Julian. Julian's doctors say that he is vulnerable to the effects of the virus.”

Strict new measures were introduced in UK prisons at the outset of the pandemic in a bid to stop the virus from running rife through their trapped populations.

Ministry of Justice figures show that 32 people have died with Covid-19 in UK prisons, and at least 1,529 had been infected by the end of October.

During an inquiry into the response to the pandemic, MPs were told in July that prisoners had been kept in conditions akin to social confinement for nearly four months, with some inmates only allowed out of their cells for half an hour a day.

Additional reporting by PA

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