Isolation Has Taken a Toll on Julian Assange, Even His ‘Embassy Cat’ is No Longer With Him
Journalist Stefania Maurizi visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange since the nation eased up on his eight-month long isolation — and the condition she found him in was shocking.
Maurizi wrote for la Repubblica that “they are destroying him slowly.”
On March 25, Ecuador caved to pressure from the United States and Spanish governments to isolate Assange by revoking his right to have visitors, make phone calls or use the internet. He is now allowed to have visitors once again — but under strict new conditions. The new protocol also bars Assange from doing journalism or expressing his opinions, under threat of losing his asylum.
“As soon as we saw him, we realised he has lost a lot of weight. Too much. He is so skinny. Not even his winter sweater can hide his skinny shoulders. His nice-looking face, captured by photographers all around the world, is very tense. His long hair and beard make him look like a hermit, though not a nutter: as we exchange greetings, he seems very lucid and rational,” Maurizi wrote.
When this reporter visited him at the embassy in March, just days before the isolation began, he was slender and lean — but not overly frail. I left the visit relieved that he seemed to be doing okay — as well as can be expected, anyway.
Maurizi wrote that unlike when myself and others visited prior to the isolation, journalists are now required to provide the “brand, model, serial number, IMEI number and telephone number (if applicable) of each of the telephone sets, computers, cameras and other electronic equipment that the applicant wants to enter with to the Embassy and keep during their interview.” She explained that this exposes journalists to serious risks of surveillance of their communications. Ultimately, her phone was seized anyway.
Upon arrival for my visit in March, the embassy staff was warm and welcoming. I was greeted with smiles and a cheerful, “we’ve been expecting you” — as if they were old friends of mine. They apologetically ran me over quickly with a handheld metal detector before asking if I would be needing my phone or if I would prefer for them to hold it at the front desk. I decided to leave it with them — but did not feel pressured to do so. I remember commenting to friends that evening about how I was pleasantly surprised by how great the staff there seemed to be, happy Assange at least had good company.
On November 22, WikiLeaks tweeted that Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno had signed a decree terminating the ambassador to the United Kingdom, Carlos Abad. They added that “all diplomats known to Assange have now been terminated and transferred away from the embassy.”
Ecuador's president has signed a decree terminating the ambassador to the United Kingdom, Carlos Abad. All diplomats known to Assange have now been terminated to transferred away from the embassy.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 22, 2018
That warm atmosphere that I experienced no longer exists, per Maurizi. The Embassy Cat that was gifted to him by his children — who he hasn’t seen in years — is also gone.
“The friendly atmosphere we had always experienced during our visits over the last six years is now gone. The Ecuadorian diplomat who had always supported the WikiLeaks founder, Fidel Narvaez, has been removed. Not even the cat is there anymore. With its funny striped tie and ambushes on the ornaments of the Christmas tree at the embassy’s entrance, the cat had helped defuse tension inside the building for years. But Assange has preferred to spare the cat an isolation which has become unbearable and allow it a healthier life,” she wrote.
The Ecuadorian government had threatened to send the cat to a shelter in their new rules, and it seems that re-homing him ended up being the decision Assange made — instead of allowing him to be used as a cruel leverage against him.
The WikiLeaks founder entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on June 19, 2012. Since that time, he has been unable to leave to receive necessary medical care under threat of arrest and potential extradition to the United States. The United Kingdom has refused to acknowledge the findings of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), which found that he is being arbitrarily and unlawfully detained and must be immediately released and compensated.
Last week, it was inadvertently revealed that the Justice Department has filed secret charges against him. On Tuesday, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will be in court seeking access to any criminal complaint, indictment or other charging documents relating to the case.