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Ribbons attached to Inverness landmark by campaigner in solidarity with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

By Philip Murray

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Kay Kelly tied yellow ribbons to Ness Bridge to flag up awareness of the court case looking into whether Julian Assange can be extradited to the USA...Picture: Gary Anthony..
Kay Kelly tied yellow ribbons to Ness Bridge to flag up awareness of the court case looking into whether Julian Assange can be extradited to the USA...Picture: Gary Anthony..

YELLOW ribbons fluttered on an Inverness bridge today in a campaigner's symbolic act of solidarity with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Pedestrians crossing the Ness Bridge will have spotted the ribbons on Monday, after they were tied to the bridge ahead of a crucial court hearing.

Mr Assange has been fighting extradition to the USA, which has accused him of breaching its laws and putting lives at risk after his Wikileaks website published thousands of classified documents a decade ago.

And, on Monday, a UK district judge ruled that, although the US case met the tests for Mr Assange's extradition, concerns over his mental health over-rode those considerations.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser said that the US was not capable of preventing Mr Assange, who is currently being held at HMP Belmarsh, from taking his own life if handed over to their custody.

She said: "The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man fearful for his future."

The judge continued: "Faced with the conditions of near total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at HMP Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the US will not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge."

The news has been welcomed by Mr Assange's supporters, although the process is not yet over – as the US has 14 days in which to lodge an appeal. It is thought it will do.

Prior to Monday's ruling, Inverness woman Kay Kelly was one of the city residents who displayed yellow ribbons as a message of support for Mr Assange.

She said Mr Assange's deteriorating mental state meant that his current incarceration in Belmarsh prison amounted to psychological torture, and called for the extradition case to be thrown out.

"This week is an important milestone in the battle for freedom of the press but is unlikely to be the final word because the losing side in the case will have a right to appeal," she said.

"There are so many aspects of the case and its implications which have shocked and saddened me.

"How could Britain go from being a country which valued our democratic rights and freedoms to a place where a journalist is imprisoned and tortured because of information he published in the course of his work?

"Assange is currently being held in Belmarsh Prison in London. Expert witnesses at his trial explained that he is mentally unwell to the extent that he is at risk of dying by suicide. This is thought to be a result of the ongoing psychological torture he has had to endure."

She added that Professor Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, had repeatedly stated that Mr Assange's treatment in custody amounted to torture. Prof Melzer has also previously stressed that though Assange had been convicted of no crime, he was kept locked up and at risk of contracting Covid-19.

"Professor Nils Meltzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture pointed out that psychological torture should not be considered a lesser form of torture," she said.

"On the contrary, it was developed in order to mentally crush prisoners who had withstood physical torture.

"Meltzer, who is also a professor of international law, visited Assange in prison in 2019 accompanied by two medical experts specialised in examining potential victims of torture. He described the treatment Assange had received from the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Ecuador as psychological torture and the US indictments as the 'criminalisation of investigative journalism'."

She continued: "The United States requested the extradition of Julian Assange accusing him of offences under the Espionage Act, even though using this act to prosecute a journalist, for something he published, goes against the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which was intended to protect freedom of speech and of the press. Britain does not have a written constitution, but we have long understood the importance of a free press and free speech. Indeed, we value democracy, of which it is an essential component.

"The UK and US have an extradition treaty, but it does not cover political prisoners.

"Well-known American journalist, Daniel Ellsberg, testified at the hearing and pointed out the danger of this trial setting a precedent against anyone who shares or passes on information leaked from the government. That is something in the routine course of a journalist’s work, at the BBC, for example, or mainstream newspapers. The arbitrary arrest and torture of a journalist is sure to exert a chilling effect on investigative journalism."

Explaining the reason for the yellow ribbon display, Kay Kelly added: "Any march or protest now, could spread Covid-19, as could travel to London, but how could I stay silent, when Julian Assange is being tortured? The symbolic yellow ribbon was suggested by an online group and I hope that many people will join me in this, especially on the day of the verdict.

"Please ask your members of parliament what they are doing to support freedom for Julian Assange and thereby, freedom of the press, and freedom of ordinary people to know what their government is doing in their name."

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