Julian Assange
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Julian Assange
Julian Assange's British legal team has requested Australian diplomatic help as fears grow for his health and mental state in a London prison. The WikiLeaks founder has been held in HM Prison Belmarsh since his April 11 arrest at the Ecuadorian embassy, where he had lived in asylum for almost seven years.

Australian officials told a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday that diplomats had not heard back from Assange's lawyer since writing to her last week asking that she raise with him their offer of consular assistance.

The 48-year-old is fighting US attempts to extradite him to face 17 counts of spying and one of computer hacking in relation to WikiLeaks' release of thousands of classified Pentagon files regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Barrister Greg Barns, an adviser to the Australian Assange campaign, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald his UK lawyers on Friday requested consular assistance following a recent inquiry from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Mr Barns said:
"Julian's lawyers are asking for the Australian government's assistance in dealing with their client's inhumane conditions in Belmarsh prison which has led to, and is continuing to cause, serious damage to Julian's health."
His supporters say he is being kept in solitary confinement and is allowed out of his cell for only 45 minutes a day. At a court appearance last week, he appeared gaunt and disorientated.

Assange was due to be released on September 22 but was told at a court hearing last month he would be kept in jail because there were "substantial grounds" for believing he would abscond.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) passed a motion at its national conference on Saturday calling for the Australian government to do "all it can" to bring Assange home and resist US attempts to extradite him.

ALA national president Andrew Christopoulos said it was an important issue about the rule of law and protecting an Australian in a vulnerable position overseas.
"This is about standing up for the rule of law, fairness and the freedom to expose wrongdoing. The reported decline of Julian Assange's physical and mental health heightens the need for urgent government intervention. The government has intervened in cases like this before and should do so in this circumstance."
If the case goes to a series of appeals, Assange could remain in a UK jail until at least 2025.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne last week acknowledged the publicity around the case and that Assange had high-profile and loyal supporters. She said it was important to let the legal process run its course. Senator Payne told the Senate committee:
"He has been offered consular services ... like any other Australian would. I think it's important to remember that as Australia would not accept intervention or interference in our legal processes, we are not able to intervene in the legal processes of another country."
About the Author:
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra