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7 Apr, 2020 13:44

First coronavirus death reported at Belmarsh max security prison, after UK says Assange is safe there

First coronavirus death reported at Belmarsh max security prison, after UK says Assange is safe there

The Covid-19 outbreak has reportedly claimed the lives of nine prisoners, including one at Belmarsh, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is being held pending extradition to the United States.

Internal figures cited by the BBC and PA Media on Tuesday suggest that 107 people across 38 prisons in England and Wales had tested positive for the infection as of Sunday. Covid-19 has claimed three lives at HMP Littlehey in Cambridgeshire. Deaths were also reported in a handful of other detention facilities, including Belmarsh Prison in southeast London.

Also on rt.com ‘No one knows’ how widespread Covid-19 may be in Belmarsh, WikiLeaks editor says as concerns over prison conditions raised

Wikileaks earlier criticized British justice for keeping Assange in the top security prison despite the new threat that the virus poses for the already ailing 48-year-old. News of the death proves that the concern was well-grounded, the whistleblower organization indicated.

"Two weeks ago: Judge refused bail to #JulianAssange saying that he, and all other prisoners, would be safe in Belmarsh Prison," WikiLeaks tweeted.

Also on Tuesday, a court hearing was held in the extradition case, with Assange defense team and US lawyers attending via a video link with the defendant himself absent. The session was focused on whether Assange’s partner would be granted anonymity by the court.

Also on rt.com ‘Imprisonment should be last resort...in crisis’ – UN rights chief on prisoners’ fates amid Covid-19 outbreak

Judge Vanessa Baraitser said it was her intention to hear the bulk of the evidence on May 18, with the process possibly stretching into June, if necessary, but rejected a call to postpone hearings till September, when the threat of Covid-19 has hopefully diminished. Defense lawyers said the virus makes it even harder to communicate with their client, who has to be moved through the infected prison for each video chat.

Assange was put behind bars almost a year ago after Ecuador revoked his asylum and invited British officers into its embassy in London to drag him out. He is wanted by the US on charges of conspiring to hack government computers and breaking espionage laws. If convicted, the outcome may become an effective life sentence for Assange.

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