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The significance of the doctors' open letter in defense of Julian Assange

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Julian Assange
Julian Assange
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The World Socialist Web Site applauds the medical doctors who have issued an open letter calling for urgent action to protect the life of imprisoned WikiLeaks founder and journalist Julian Assange.

More than 65 doctors from the UK, US, Australia, Germany, Italy and Sri Lanka have brought to the attention of a global audience the terrible dangers to Assange's life. They wrote to Britain's Conservative Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday, warning, "Mr. Assange could die" because of years of arbitrary detention and his continued incarceration in almost permanent isolation in London's Belmarsh maximum security prison.

The doctors insist that Assange be moved to a university teaching hospital, where he can be assessed and treated by an expert medical team. They stress, "The medical situation is thereby urgent. There is no time to lose."

We urge workers, young people and all those concerned with democratic rights to heed the doctors' warning and join the fight to defend Julian Assange as well as the courageous whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, who has also been locked away for refusing to give false testimony against Assange.

The doctors' initiative marks a new stage in the struggle to free Assange because it has been taken independently by a group of professional workers, animated by profound concern for his fate and for democratic rights.

The doctors were acutely concerned by the findings of Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, that Assange is suffering the effects of prolonged "psychological torture" after nearly a decade of arbitrary detention and state persecution, which "may soon end up costing his life." They saw how this warning by the world's foremost authority on torture was simply dismissed by the UK government.

Following the harrowing account of Assange's physical and mental condition given by former British diplomat and whistle-blower Craig Murray, who attended the October 21 Westminster Magistrates Court hearing at which Assange appeared, the doctors decided to act. They resolved that it was their professional duty to report "suspected torture of which they become aware, wherever it may be occurring... That professional duty is absolute and must be carried out regardless of risk to reporting doctors."

The brave and independent action of the doctors has inspired many others, evoking a powerful global response and forcing the world's media to report on the letter. Other doctors are now coming forward to append their own signature.

The open letter has revealed the massive but latent support for Assange that can and must be mobilized in his defense. The central issue is how this must be done.

On June 20, the editorial board of the World Socialist Web Site issued a statement, "For a worldwide campaign to prevent Julian Assange's rendition to the US!" The statement stated: "The movement to secure Julian Assange's freedom must come from below. Moral appeals to the governments that are persecuting him are less than useless. Assange's freedom must be fought for independently of, and in opposition to, the political agents of the ruling class."

This position has been fully vindicated by the open letter.

The doctors' stand was taken in defiance of a vindictive gang-up against Assange involving the state machinery and governments of the United States, the UK, Australia, Sweden and Ecuador to punish him for exposing war crimes in Afghanistan and elsewhere and then silence him forever.

Dr Stephen Frost, a specialist in diagnostic radiology, wrote of the open letter: "If the UK government does not heed doctors' warnings and continues with its current reckless, dangerous and cruel behavior, people from all over the world will rightly call for those responsible to be held to account. We say that the situation is medically urgent and that it must not be allowed to continue. There is no time to lose. The torture must stop NOW."

In response, the UK government has again made clear that nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of the plans to stage a show trial next February before carrying out a predetermined decision to extradite Assange to the US. Patel's Home Office issued a statement to the media yesterday declaring, "The allegations Mr. Assange was subjected to torture are unfounded and wholly false. The UK is committed to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that no one is ever above it."

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Chris Marsden's work can be found on wsws.org, a website dedicated to global awareness of socialist issues & which serves as the forum for the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).
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