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Concerns for Assange's health following Covid-19 death in Belmarsh

CAMPAIGNERS raised concerns for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s safety today, after a coronavirus death was reported in Belmarsh prison just days after a court ruled he was safe.

At least 10 inmates and two staff members across England and Wales have died after contracting Covid-19, including one person at the high-security prison in south-east London where Mr Assange is being held pending extradition to the United States.

A statement from the Don’t Extradite Assange campaign said: “At the last hearing, the Judge refused Julian Assange bail because she did not believe there were cases in Belmarsh. 

“She must now reverse that decision and release him.” 

Journalist John Pilger told Russia Today: “A magistrate refused to give Julian Assange bail, he has a lung condition. 

“How is such a cruelty applied to someone who is convicted of no crime – whose only crime is journalism [?]”

Last week, the government announced the temporary release of about 4,000 prisoners. Mr Pilger said it was “an outrage” that Mr Assange’s name was not on the list.

WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said Mr Assange is very vulnerable to the infection and “would be considered at great risk even if living normally in society."

Prison Officers’ Association national chairman Mark Fairhurst told the Star the union was concerned about staff and prisoner safety.

“I call upon the government to commence their promised testing programme of prison staff without delay and ensure those leaving our care do not put their communities at risk without such tests being carried out,” he said.

During a hearing on Tuesday, Mr Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald highlighted "insuperable" difficulties preparing the case because of the pandemic and called for an adjournment until September.

Ruling against him, Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who refused to grant Mr Assange bail, said the extradition hearing was still five weeks away and it was expected that courts would resume in a fortnight.

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