Julian Assange was refused permission to marry in jail to ‘break him psychologically’, says fiancée

Exclusive: WikiLeaks founder ‘will die’ if extradited to US, partner tells The Independent

Andrew Buncombe
Wednesday 10 November 2021 23:57
'I was taken aback by how thin he looked' says partner of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
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Julian Assange is being prevented from getting married inside his high-security British jail as part of a concerted effort to try and break him psychologically, his fiancée has alleged.

Stella Moris, 38, the mother of two children with the WikiLeaks founder, said the couple had sought permission to wed at London’s Belmarsh prison, where Mr Assange has been held since April 2019 while fighting efforts to extradite him to the US.

They had hoped to get married last month by means of the Greenwich Register Office, the registrar of which has the authority to marry prisoners. After several weeks of delay, the prison governor wrote to the couple’s lawyers, saying all requests must be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The CPS, Britain’s independent prosecutorial agency, is acting on behalf of the US government in its bid to force the extradition of Mr Assange to America to face 18 charges, including 17 under the 1917 Espionage Act.

Ms Moris has started legal action against the governor of the prison as well as against Dominic Raab, Britain’s secretary of state for justice, who is also Boris Johnson’s deputy.

She claims the attempt to interfere in the couple’s personal affairs is part of a broader effort to try and undermine the willpower of Mr Assange, who has now spent 20 months in Belmarsh.

British authorities have denied her claims and said the marriage application is being currently considered.

“There are no legitimate reasons to interfere with it. It’s a really basic, essential thing, a human thing, and it’s not for the intelligence services, our politicians or anyone else,” Ms Moris told The Independent in an interview.

“I’m enraged that even this thing is being interfered with.”

Ms Moris, who said she and the WikiLeaks founder had been a couple for a number of years, said they had talked about getting married last year. They formally informed the authorities at Belmarsh in the summer, and after various delays had hoped that a ceremony would take place last week.

She said it was then that they were told of the need to contact the CPS, an agency she said had a clear conflict of interest given it was working to extradite Mr Assange to the US.

“It’s galling that the agency that represents the country that has been plotting to kill Julian, that is psychologically torturing him and hounding him, is the one who is deciding whether we can get married,” she said.

Ms Moris said anything regarding her fiancé tended to attract the interest of the British intelligence services and also got referred up to the highest levels. She said she did not believe the governor of Belmarsh prison, Jenny Louis, was the person pulling the strings.

She said the incident was the latest piece of “deeply criminal and unethical behaviour that has been going on to make Julian’s life impossible in every little aspect, [and] to try to affect him and break him psychologically”.

She is not the only person to make such an assertion. Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, has frequently said that Mr Assange is being persecuted for his actions and that his treatment amounts to “torture”.

Assange lawyer argues WikiLeaks founder still suicide risk

Supporters of Mr Assange say he is being punished for having exposed what they consider war crimes, perpetrated by the US and its allies during the so-called “war on terror”.

Many high-profile journalists, including those with whom he has had a sometimes testy relationship, have said his extradition to America for publishing such revelations would be a blow to the principle of freedom of speech and to investigative journalism in general.

Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, was arrested by British police after spending five years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had sought political asylum as he fought to avoid extradition to Sweden, where police said they wanted to investigate him over two accusations of sexual assault. Mr Assange has denied the claims and said he believed he would be taken to the US.

In April 2019, after a change of leadership in Ecuador, Mr Assange was told he could no longer stay in the embassy, whereupon he was jailed by a British court for 12 months for skipping bail. At the time, the US announced it had charged Mr Assange with conspiracy to gain access to a Pentagon computer. A month after that, it unveiled 17 more serious counts under the 1917 Espionage Act.

In January 2021, a British judge refused the US’s request to extradite Mr Assange, ruling that his incarceration in the US prison system would likely result in his suicide. Yet, an appeal court gave the US authorities the right to challenge that decision, which they did last month. A ruling on that appeal is still pending.

Mr Assange was arrested by British police after spending five years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London

In that hearing, lawyers for the US government claimed the threat to Mr Assange’s wellbeing had been exaggerated. Meanwhile, lawyers for the WikiLeaks founder highlighted revelations by Yahoo News concerning a CIA plot to capture or even kill him.

British authorities have rejected the claims made by Ms Moris.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “This is completely untrue. An application has been received and is being considered in the usual way.”

A spokesperson for the CPS said the agency had not objected to the application from the couple to marry. The spokesperson said the CPS was consulted on remand prisoners’ marriages due to the potential impact on a defendant’s case.

Neither Belmarsh Prison, or its governor, immediately responded to questions.

The legal action gives those named until November 12 to respond to the demand from lawyers working on behalf of Mr Assange and Ms Moris.

Asked why the couple needed to get married at this point, rather than waiting until the case was settled, Ms Moris said: “We’ve been engaged for years and years, and we’ve been wanting and trying to get married.”

She said the couple felt they should not be prevented from taking a decision that ought to be up to them, and that they should be allowed to “get on with our lives within what should be within our control”.

Asked about the likelihood of being able to get married in the US if Mr Assange was extradited, she said: “If Julian gets extradited to the US, it’s going to kill him.”

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