Wikileaks founder Julian Assange suffers from auditory hallucinations including hearing voices saying “we’re coming to get you”, a psychiatrist has told his extradition hearing.
Professor Michael Kopelman said the 49-year-old was at a “high risk” of taking his own life, having made preparations including confessing to a Catholic priest.
Assange is fighting extradition to the US, where he faces an 18-count indictment alleging a plot to hack computers and conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.
Prof Kopelman told the Old Bailey on Tuesday he has visited Assange some 20 times in high-security Belmarsh prison, where he is being held on remand.
The emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London said: “He reported auditory hallucinations, which were voices either inside or outside his head, somatic hallucinations, funny bodily experiences, these have now disappeared.
“He also has a long history of musical hallucinations, which is maybe a separate phenomenon, that got worse when he was in prison.
“The voices are things like, ‘you are dust, you are dead, we are coming to get you’. They are derogatory and persecutory.”
He added: “They seem to have diminished.
“Subsequently the musical hallucinations have also reduced, and the somatic hallucinations have disappeared.”
Prof Kopelman wrote in reports that Assange is at a “high risk” of taking his own life and the court heard he has frequently called the Samaritans from prison.
“The risk of suicide arises out of clinical factors…but it is the imminence of extradition and or an actual extradition that would trigger the attempt, in my opinion,” he said.
The professor said the combination of Assange’s depression and ASD (autism spectrum disorder) has caused an “almost obsessional rumination” on the topic.
“He’s made various plans and undergone various preparations, such as confessed to the Catholic priest, who granted him absolution, began to draft farewell letters to family members and close friends, he’s drawn up a will.
“Various preparations are in place.”
James Lewis QC, for the US government, suggested Prof Kopelman had relied upon Assange’s claims that he was put in solitary confinement after prison guards found a razor blade in a pile of underpants in his cell, as well as another incident in which two cords were confiscated.
He asked the witness whether he thought it was “bizarre” the razor incident did not appear on any of Assange’s prison notes.
Prof Kopelman replied: “When I went through them again it did strike me as odd.”
He told the court Assange has a genetic predisposition to depression and has suffered a number of episodes, including whilst in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he stayed for almost seven years.
The court heard he diagnosed Assange with being “severely depressed” in December last year to being “moderately depressed” by February and March this year, becoming more severe during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Prof Kopelman said he is taking medication to treat depression and psychosis and has suffered physical symptoms, including a loss of appetite and problems with sleep.
The court heard that Assange feared the CIA would get to him inside prison and he may have “been deliberately infected” with HIV in his sleep.
Reading from prison medical notes from 29 April last year, Lewis said: “He reported a near-death experience and worried if the CIA might find a way to get him or mess with his head.”
Assange also complained of going “cold turkey” on 15 May after coming off the painkiller co-codamol, which he was taking in the embassy for toothache, the court heard.
Lewis pointed to records describing Assange’s visits to the prison library, watching racing on television and playing pool with other inmates.
He suggested the behaviour did not fit with Prof Kopelman’s diagnosis or a comment Assange made to him that “he thought about suicidal ideas 100 times a day”.
Prof Kopelman said: “This was of course before he was moved on 18 July to the single cell in health care, where his health deteriorated.”
The court was told on Monday of an alleged plot by the US administration to remove Assange from the embassy for extradition six months before his eventual arrest.
American journalist Cassandra Fairbanks said Arthur Schwartz, described as an informal adviser to Donald Trump Jr, revealed details to her in a phone call on 30 October 2018 after she posted a link to an interview with Assange’s mother.
In a statement read in court, she said: “He repeatedly insisted that I stop advocating for Wikileaks and Assange, telling me that ‘a pardon isn’t going to f****** happen’.
“He knew very specific details about a future prosecution against Assange that were later made public and that only those very close to the situation then would have been aware of.”
Fairbanks, who was working for the pro-Trump Gateway Pundit publication at the time of the call, said she was told Assange would be targeted over the leaks from US army analyst Chelsea Manning.
“He also told me that the US would be going into the embassy to get Assange.
“I responded that entering the embassy of a sovereign nation and kidnapping a political refugee would be an act of war, and he responded, ‘not if they let us’.
“I did not know at that time that Ambassador Grenell himself had that very month, October 2018, worked out a deal for Assange’s arrest with the Ecuadorian government.”
Joel Smith, for the US government, said prosecutors could, in later submissions, comment on the partiality of the witness, who admitted to being a supporter of Assange and Wikileaks and visited him in the embassy, where he stayed for around seven years.
“Firstly, the truth of what Ms Fairbanks was told by Arthur Schwartz is not within her knowledge,” he said.
“Secondly, so far as the remainder of the evidence is concerned, it’s relied on by the defence, not challenged but not accepted by the prosecution.”
Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Assange, said Fairbanks’ statement is “reliable and true”.
He told the judge, Vanessa Baraitser: “We will, in due course, invite you to rely on this evidence as supporting a pre-coordinated plan at the top level, including Trump and Grenell, to take Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy, to extradite and prosecute him and also to compel Manning, if possible to give evidence against him.”
Picture: Reuters/Henry Nicholls