'He won't survive': Julian Assange's partner pleads for his release
Stella Moris with her sons, Max, left and Gabriel. Source: SBS
As Wikileaks founder Julian Assange prepares to take his fight to the Old Bailey in London on Monday, his partner Stella Moris says she fears the worst if he is sent to the US.
“Hello? Can you hear me? Julian?”
Stella Moris is in the middle of her interview with SBS News when a friend hands her a mobile phone.
It’s her partner, Julian Assange, calling from Belmarsh Prison. She lets him know that she’s wearing a microphone; not that we can hear what he’s saying. He does most of the talking and after a minute or so, she says goodbye.
It’s a bizarre situation, but one Ms Moris is used to.
The 37-year-old lawyer is the mother of Mr Assange’s two youngest sons. Gabriel is three, Max is one. They both have their father’s features.
The Covid-19 pandemic had kept Ms Moris and Mr Assange apart for months until a short visit last week.
“We were very happy to see each other, but we were both wearing masks and visors,” she says.
“I was with both of our boys. When we came in the guard said that we had to maintain distance and if the boys ran up to Julian, or tried to touch him, we’d be asked to leave and Julian would be placed into self-isolation for two weeks.”
"We're a family and that's a real thing."
Even those who’ve followed the Assange case closely were stunned to learn the 49-year-old had fathered two children during his time in Ecuador’s London Embassy.
The boys’ existence was only revealed a few months ago.
Mr Assange’s critics - and there are many - saw it as an attempt to soften his image and make his extradition less likely on humanitarian grounds.
Not so, according to his partner.
“We’re a family and that’s a real thing. It’s not a PR anything, it’s a reality. People need to deal with that reality, including the courts.”
She pauses when asked about the suggestion made in court by his defense team earlier this year that the Wikileaks founder would be at a ‘high risk’ of suicide if sent to the United States.
“The ultimate risk is our children growing up without their father. If Julian is extradited, my children will be fatherless.
“These concerns are very real. I’m concerned about my safety and the safety of our kids, but I’m fighting for Julian’s life here. He can’t be extradited, that will be it. He won’t survive it.
“My children need to grow up with their father.”
Back to court
The second part of Mr Assange’s extradition hearing will soon begin in London’s Old Bailey. It’s expected to last four weeks. It was always going to be held in two stages, but the pandemic delayed proceedings.
The United States wants the Australian sent across the Atlantic, so he can face court on 18 charges.
They allege he conspired with US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to penetrate a Pentagon computer to steal and disseminate classified documents related to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr Assange’s backers believe he’s a journalist entitled to first amendment protections.
He has been in a high-security jail since he was dragged from the Embassy in April 2019. His fiancée says his mental and physical health has suffered in recent months.
“Belmarsh Prison doesn’t distinguish in its treatment remand prisoners from the very worst convicted murderers.”
The pandemic has not only limited personal visits but legal ones too. The Australian has complained in previous court hearings about a lack of access to his lawyers.
“No-one can say that’s a fair way to go into a hearing that could end in a life sentence, in the darkest hole of the US prison system,” says Ms Moris.
“This case couldn’t be more important, the consequences couldn’t be more grave and he’s going into it with both hands tied behind his back.”
Could Biden save Assange?
While Donald Trump famously said: “I love Wikileaks” at rallies during his 2016 election campaign, his administration is determined Mr Assange facean American court. They accuse him of putting lives at risk by releasing unredacted documents, a claim Wikileaks strongly rejects.
With potential appeals, there’s every chance a new US President could be in office before extradition is determined.
“There’s a possibility Julian’s situation could improve because this a political case,” says Ms Moris.
“It will be interesting to see if (Joe Biden) follows the Trump legacy, or he’ll stick to the Obama legacy, which was to commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence and to not prosecute Julian for exercising press freedoms.”
Court costs and timelines
Mr Assange will attend court in person, sitting in the dock behind thick sheets of glass. His supporters will gather outside, chanting and drumming, as they did during the first part of the hearing in February.
A crowd-funding campaign has been launched to cover his mounting legal costs, with more than $185,000 raised so far.
A decision by District Judge Vanessa Baraitser could take weeks, or even months. Whatever the result, it’s expected the case will end up in the UK Supreme Court.
“It’s hard to keep up hope,” says Ms Moris.
“We have each other and we have a very strong bond, we love each other and I’m always going to be here for him and waiting for him to come home.”