The partner of Julian Assange has spoken of the “heart-breaking” impact on their young family if he is extradited to the United States.
As the WikiLeaks founder prepares to take his fight to the Old Bailey on Monday, Stella Moris said there were also “huge repercussions for freedom of expression”.
The mother-of-two said: “Julian will be taken from his cell in Belmarsh tomorrow to the Old Bailey in a prison van that is like a ventilated coffin.
“He has been confined to his cell for up to 24 hours a day, deprived of intellectual stimulation, and has had no access to his lawyers for the last six months.
“Two weeks ago, I was able to see him for the first time since lockdown. He looked a lot thinner than on my last visit. He was in a lot of pain and his health is not good.”
During the visit with sons Gabriel and Max, they were not allowed to touch him and had to wear masks and visors, she said.
Ms Moris said: “To the boys, Julian has become a voice on the telephone, not their father, whom they can see and hug.
“It is heart-breaking to think that if Julian is extradited and put in a US super-max prison the boys will never get to know their father and he will never see them grow up.
“That is what is at stake for us as a family. But there are also much bigger issues that we are fighting for.
“Julian’s case has huge repercussions for freedom of expression and freedom of the press. This is an attack on journalism.
“If he is extradited to the US for publishing inconvenient truths about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, then it will set a precedent, and any British journalist or publisher could also be extradited in the future.”
She said there were “fundamental reasons” the extradition should be blocked.
Assange, 49, who has been held in custody at high-security Belmarsh Prison for 16 months, is wanted in the United States over what it has called “one of the largest compromises of classified information” in its history.
He faces 18 charges, including plotting to hack computers and conspiring to obtain and disclose national defence information.
Allegations include that Assange conspired with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password to a classified US defence department computer.
If convicted, he faces a maximum possible penalty of 175 years in jail.
But Assange’s supporters have accused the Donald Trump administration of targeting the Australian national for “political” reasons.
Last month, Ms Moris launched a CrowdJustice campaign to help fund his defence, which has now topped £100,000.
The extradition case, which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, is being heard by District Judge Vanessa Baraitser at the Old Bailey.
It is expected that dozens of witnesses will be called to give evidence over four weeks.
Assange’s legal team is being spearheaded by Edward Fitzgerald QC, with James Lewis QC acting for the US authorities.
Speaking ahead of the hearing, John Rees, of the Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign, said: “This is the press freedom case of the 21st century.
“Anyone who cares about freedom of speech, about the ability of journalists to tell the public what the powerful would prefer to remain hidden, should make their way to the Old Bailey and let their voice be heard.”