Julian Assange relayed how he “binge-watched” a video of a former Bosnian Croat general taking his own life in a UN courtroom three years ago, a doctor who visited the WikiLeaks founder on several occasions has told an extradition hearing.
Dr. Sondra Crosby, associate professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, said she noted a visible deterioration in both his mental and physical state over her four visits from October 2017 to the Ecuadorian embassy where Assange was living.
He had been granted asylum by Ecuador five years earlier over fears of extradition to the US related to his WikiLeaks work.
Crosby told London’s Old Bailey criminal court that on a visit in February 2018, Assange had first described thoughts of suicide and how he was thinking about it “very deliberately” and that he had “binge-watched” the suicide a few months earlier of Slobodan Praljak at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Seconds after an appeals judge confirmed his 20-year sentence for war crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Praljak proclaimed his innocence and then drank from a small bottle containing potassium cyanide.
He collapsed in court and died in a Dutch hospital about two hours later.
The dramatic scene of the 72-year-old former commander of Bosnian Croat military forces lifting his trembling right hand to his mouth and drinking the liquid was streamed live on the court’s website.
She said Assange described how he “freeze-framed” and “analysed” Praljak’s face while the Bosnian Croat took his own life.
Assange’s lawyers have argued this week that their client could very well try to kill himself if he is sent to the United States to face espionage charges, and have pointed to his deteriorating mental state during his seven-year stay at the Ecuadorian embassy and since his ejection from there in April 2019 to a British prison.
Crosby also said that in a visit to Belmarsh Prison in London in October 2019, Assange “appeared to be severely depressed” and that he had talked about having thoughts of self-harm “hundreds of times a day”.
“He seemed to be in very dire straits,” she said.
US prosecutors have indicted the 49-year-old on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US military documents a decade ago.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the US government have sought to show that Assange’s mental state is not as bad as claimed by witnesses acting for the defence and that he wouldn’t be subjected to improper conditions if sent to the pre-trial facilities at Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia.
The extradition hearing is due to last until early October.
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