With calls from journalists and supporters around the world demanding his release, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange couldn’t appear on a video link for a London court appearance on 30 May because he was unwell. With Assange admitted to the hospital wing at Belmarsh prison in Southeast London, fears are mounting about his deteriorating health.
Lawyer Gareth Peirce told the court Assange was “not very well”. Assange, 47, from Australia, is serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in Britain while fighting extradition to the United States, which accuses him of violating the Espionage Act by publishing secret documents containing the names of confidential military and diplomatic sources.
Sweden has also reopened a preliminary investigation questioning into sexual assault allegations dating from 2010, which Assange has denied. A Swedish court hearing on 3 June will decide if another extradition request will be issued under a European arrest warrant. Should the UK be faced with two separate extradition requests, it’s not clear which claim would take precedence. However, it is the US charge that has upset press freedom defenders.
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said that the next extradition hearing set for June 12 may be moved to a court next to Belmarsh Prison. About two dozen supporters chanted “Free Assange” outside the courthouse and many queued outside for an hour waiting to get in.
Assange had been held on suspicion of conspiracy to break into classified computer systems, a less serious charge before the US, in what his supporters said was an attempt to make an example of him and muzzle reporters seeking sources revealing government wrongdoing, said it wanted to try him for espionage.
WikiLeaks said in a statement it has “grave concerns” about Assange’s health after prison authorities moved to the health ward and that “During the seven weeks in Belmarsh his health has continued to deteriorate and he has dramatically lost weight.” Assange’s Swedish defense lawyer, Per Samuelson, wrote in a legal filing that, “It was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him.”