Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been plagued by recurring nightmares of being pinned down, captured and decapitated while being held in solitary confinement in prison, the Old Bailey has heard.
The 49-year-old is fighting against extradition to the US where he faces 18 criminal charges over the alleged leak of classified military documents a decade ago.
Assange spent nearly seven years living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London amid fears he would be taken to America to face trial and is currently being held at the maximum-security HMP Belmarsh.
In his evidence to the extradition hearing on Monday, US justice expert Joel Sickler described Assange’s mental state during his periods of confinement.
He said Assange has reported “nightmares of being held down in confined spaces, being trapped, being unable to move, being held, being captured, having to be cut out with wires, or even being decapitated”.
“These nightmares of being in enclosed conditions were re-experienced when living in the near-isolation conditions in the embassy and in the solitary cell at Belmarsh," he said.
"These thoughts and memories have led to sweatiness and palpitations, which are associated with panic.”
Assange says he lived “effectively in solitary confinement for 60 hours a week” in the embassy in central London, after seeking asylum to avoid being extradited Sweden in 2012.
“While at the embassy, he was cut off from the Internet, and jammers were installed,” said Mr Sickler.
“He was ‘spied’ upon. Only his lawyers and his doctor were allowed to visit. He endured assassination threats, and he had recurrent dreams about being killed - held down and decapitated.”
Assange was dragged out of the embassy in April 2019 when asylum was withdrawn by Ecuador, and he has since been held at Belmarsh.
The court heard he has described himself to a psychiatrist as “very, very depressed, anxious and worried”, and claims he is “trying to come to terms with the end of my life.”
He has reportedly spent time repetitively watching a YouTube video of Slobodan Praljak, a Croatian general who killed himself with cyanide in court in the Hague, and commented: “He did the right thing.”
Mr Sickler said Assange is being held in a cell where the last occupant hanged himself, and he claims to have suicidal thoughts “hundreds of times a day”, the court heard.
The Wikileaks founder also says he struggles to remember the names of family members, cannot concentrate and makes phone calls to the Samaritans every day.
In his report to the court, Mr Sickler pointed out that paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein managed to kill himself in a high-security American prison while awaiting trial, and if extradited to the US Assange may suffer the same fate.
“Mr Epstein may have been one of the world’s most notoriously known men at the time of his death. And yet he received no preventative treatment for suicide," he said.
“I fear Mr. Assange could expect no greater protection.”
Assange's health is one of a number of arguments ventured by his legal team against extradition. US prosecutors counter that the US prison conditions will be safe for Assange while he awaits his trial.
The extradition hearing is now in its final week of evidence and argument, but District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is not expected to make a final ruling until early next year.
For confidential support, call Samaritans on 116 123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.