Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will make an application for bail on Wednesday, on grounds he is vulnerable to the virus pandemic while in prison.
The Australian is being held at Britain’s most notorious prison, Belmarsh in southeast London, which holds around 800 prisoners. His US extradition trial began in February and was adjourned until May 18.
The trial could be further delayed because of the virus, his supporters said. “Prisons are considered epicenters for the spread of Covid-19 due to overcrowding and the propensity of the virus to spread in closed environments,” campaign group Don’t Extradite Assange said.
The US wants Assange on charges that he conspired to obtain and disclose classified documents passed to him by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. Last week his mother, Christine Assange, said her son should be released because he is a “low-risk prisoner” who hasn’t been convicted of a crime.
He’s been in Belmarsh since he was evicted in April from the Ecuadorian embassy where he had been given refuge for several years after skipping bail to avoid questioning in a Swedish assault case.
That case was dropped in November after Swedish prosecutors said the allegations had been weakened as the memories of witnesses faded.
The application comes after the head of the Prison Governors Association warned of prison deaths as a result of the illness. In the worst case scenario, 65,000 prisoners in the U.K. will be infected, the group said. Currently 83,000 are incarcerated.
“This isn’t rocket science: when you have a lot of people in close proximity, viruses will spread quite easily,” Andrea Albutt said in an interview last week. There are many elderly people in prison, and the younger inmates live unhealthy lifestyles and have underlying health issues, she said.
Prison officers dealing with inmates with symptoms are being given protective equipment, including masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of the disease.
The government plans to group infected inmates together in one area to reduce the risk of infection to others. It also plans to ease overcrowding by boosting the numbers of inmates given early release.
Hundreds more prisoners may be given electronic tags and curfews under the proposals, which were planned before the coronavirus outbreak and are being reintroduced by the government.