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article imageOp-Ed: Assange declared not eligible for anti-virus early release

By Ken Hanly     Apr 5, 2020 in Crime
The Australian Associated Press has reported that Julian Asssange the imprisoned Wikileaks publisher is not eligible to be released early on account of the COVID-19 pandemic as are some other prisoners since he is not serving a criminal sentence.
Some prisoners to be released
UK Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said on Saturday that some low-risk prisoners with a few weeks from release will be let go but with monitoring devices. The move is designed to lower prison populations during the COVID-19 pandemic and help prevent a possible rapid spread through prisons.
Buckland said in a statement: “This government is committed to ensuring that justice is served to those who break the law. But this is an unprecedented situation because if coronavirus takes hold in our prisons, the NHS could be overwhelmed and more lives put at risk.”
Assange not in jail on a criminal sentence
The prisoner release applies only to those convicted of a criminal offense who are near the end of their sentence and who are a low risk to the population. Assange is only being held in a custodial sentence as he is forced to await the outcome of a US extradition request. Assange has been forced to remain in Belmarsh prison which holds many high-risk inmates convicted of the most serious crimes.
If extradited Assange would face charges under the US Espionage Acts. He released many secret files revealing details of aspects of the US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many were damaging to the reputation of the US military. Assange also faces a charge of hacking into a computer. If convicted Assange could be jailed for up to 175 years. The appended video shows one of the tapes Wikileaks released showing an attack by a helicopter in Baghdad that killed two who worked for Reuters among others
Assange failed in an earlier bid to be released
Assange has argued that he was at risk of catching coronavirus in Belmarsh prison where he is in custody. Assange has had a history of illness including respiratory infections. Edward Fitzgeral Assange's lawyer said that although there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the prison currently that 100 prison officers were off work and that was a very real risk that Assange faced a fatal risk if kept imprisoned at Belmarsh.
However, Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates Court said: "As matters stand today, this global pandemic does not as of itself provide grounds for Mr Assange's release."
Conclusion
Assange's full extradition hearing is due to resume for three weeks in May. Witnesses will be called and cross-examined. The ruling is expected by August at the latest. All this time Assange is condemned to remain in a high security prison with the risk of being infected by COVID-19. The situation could even be worse in that court hearings could be delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. At a recent hearing there have been complaints about Assange's treatment at Belmarsh as reported on an appended video.
The court considers that Assange could flee if released. However, surely he could be fitted with a device to monitor his movements, be required to check in every so often, and monitored closely. This would ensure Assange would be there to attend his hearings without subjecting him to the risk of contracting COVID-19 in prison. Instead he is subject to continual punishment when he is not even charged with any crime in the UK.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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