Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Julian Assange ‘will die’ if extradited to US, his wife warns

Stella Assange said her husband could be on a plane to the US ‘within days’.

Sam Hall
Thursday 15 February 2024 16:56 GMT
Stella Assange, the wife of Julian Assange, speaking at a media briefing in central London (Lucy North/PA)
Stella Assange, the wife of Julian Assange, speaking at a media briefing in central London (Lucy North/PA) (PA Wire)

Julian Assange’s wife has warned that the WikiLeaks founder “will die” if he is extradited to the US, ahead of his High Court appeal next week.

At a media briefing in central London on Thursday morning, Stella Assange said her husband could be on a plane to the US “within days”.

Assange has been in Belmarsh prison in south-east London since he was removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in 2019 where he was given political asylum, as he fights Washington’s attempts to extradite him to face charges under its espionage act.

Ms Assange, who met her husband while working as part of his legal team, said: “The situation is extremely grave. He could be on a plane within days.

“His health is in decline, mentally and physically. His life is at risk every single day he stays in prison, and if he’s extradited, he will die.

“But it’s not just about being extradited. Julian should never have been put in prison in the first place.”

The briefing came ahead of the 52-year-old’s final appeal to be heard in the High Court on February 20 and 21.

His supporters say the Australian national faces 175 years in prison if he is extradited.

Ms Assange said the case was “politically motivated” and violates the UK-US extradition treaty which prohibits extradition for political reasons.

He will be put in a hole so far and deep in the ground that I don't think I'll ever see him again

Stella Assange

She said the “bogus extradition request” would have been thrown out by the UK authorities if it was made by any country other than the US, adding she had learnt “not to be optimistic” over his case.

The couple have two children together and married in March 2022 in Belmarsh.

Ms Assange, who cried during the briefing, said her husband was “isolated” in prison and spends more than 22 hours a day in confinement.

“I am very concerned about how he’s doing. Physically, he’s aged prematurely,” she added.

“Julian will be put in a hole if he is extradited, there is no doubt about that. He will be put in a hole so far and deep in the ground that I don’t think I’ll ever see him again.”

If his appeal is unsuccessful, Ms Assange said her husband would apply to the European Court of Human Rights for a Rule 39 order to stop extradition while it considers his case.

Assange’s campaign against extradition is supported by human rights and journalistic organisations across the world.

At the briefing at the Royal Over-Seas League, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said the extradition would set a precedent that has “dark and serious implications for press freedom all around the world”.

The Icelandic investigative journalist said: “We are seeing a critical attack on press freedom worldwide. It is like a disease – an anti-press pandemic creeping up on us that has been incrementally taking shape over the years.

“And in that sense Julian Assange has been canary in the coal mine.”

Rebecca Vincent, director of campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, said there had been a lot of “unhelpful noise” and “misconceptions” surrounding the case.

She said: “We defend Julian Assange because of his contributions to journalism.

“We believe this case has a lot of implications for journalism and press freedom around the world.”

Ms Vincent said the US espionage act lacks a “public interest defence” and could be applied to “anyone publishing stories based on leaked documents”.

Assange is wanted in the US over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He denies any wrongdoing.

In a January 2021 ruling, then-district judge Vanessa Baraitser said he should not be sent to the US, citing a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide, while ruling against him on all other issues.

US authorities brought a successful High Court challenge against this decision, paving the way for extradition.

In June last year, Assange lost his appeal against a judge’s ruling over whether he should be extradited but make his final appeal in the High Court next week.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in