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Reporters Without Borders blocked from Assange prison visit

April 4, 2023

A prison spokesperson said Reporters Without Borders representatives were denied entry on account of being journalists. Meanwhile, Assange's wife said the Wikileaks founder's physical state is deteriorating.

A poster reading 'Free Assange' and showing his face gagged by the US flag seen in a window behind bars
Assange's wife said the activist urged her to keep fightingImage: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/picture alliance

UK officials have barred Reporters Without Borders (RSF) from visiting Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in prison, the media watchdog said in a Tuesday statement.

RSF Secretary-General Cristophe Deloire and Director of Operations Rebecca Vincent were denied entry to the prison despite having obtained prior "official authorization," the statement said.

Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire and Director of Operations Rebecca Vincent alongside Julian Assange's wife, Stella Assange
Two Reporters Without Borders representatives were barred from entering the prison holding Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, while his wife Stella (center) was allowed to visit as plannedImage: Stefan Rousseau/PA/dpa/picture alliance

Meanwhile, Assange's wife Stella was allowed to enter the complex as planned. She told reporters in front of the prison that Assange's physical state was deteriorating "every day," but that the Wikileaks founder sought "not to give up and to keep fighting."

What did RSF and prison officials say about the decision?

Deloire called the decision "absurd" and called for its "urgent reversal."

"We are deeply disappointed by the arbitrary decision of the Belmarsh prison governor to prevent us from visiting Julian Assange, despite following all relevant prison procedures and rules," Deloire said.

"Julian Assange has the right to receive visitors in prison, and we are legitimate to visit him as a press freedom NGO," he said.

The NGO chief said that the jail's governor had removed the two RSF representatives' names from the visitors list as they were journalists.

A prison service spokesperson confirmed that the Deloire and Vincent had been barred from entering the facility "on the basis that they were journalists," adding that this was "in line with prison rules."

"We will be happy to reconsider future requests to visit the prison, taking into account any additional information that is provided," the spokesperson said.

Vincent argued in a tweet that she and Deloire were visiting as representatives of an NGO, not as journalists. She said that she had never worked as a journalist and did not possess a press card.

"We have written a formal complaint. Assange’s lawyers have written too. We will keep seeking access," she said.

Wanted under US Espionage Act

Assange has been held in the Belmarsh high security jail in southeast London since 2019. He is appealing against the United Kingdom's approval of his extradition to the United States.

Washington accuses Assange of violating the US Espionage Act by publishing military and diplomatic files related to the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He could be handed a decades-long sentence if convicted.

Supporters argue that the prosecution of Assange threatens press freedom.

In November 2022, five leading Western newspapers issued a joint call for the US to drop its charges against the Wikileaks founder.

sdi/dj (AFP, dpa)