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September 24, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:37am

Doctor tells Old Bailey Assange suicide risk is ‘manageable’ even if he is extradited to US

By Press Association

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is a “resilient” and “resourceful” man who defied predictions over his mental health, a psychiatrist has told his extradition hearing.

Assange, 49, 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.

Giving evidence for the US Government on Thursday, Dr Nigel Blackwood rebutted defence experts on the extent of Assange’s condition, saying his suicide risk was “manageable”.

He told the Old Bailey: “Mr Assange has proved himself to be a very resilient and very resourceful man and he has underplayed that.

“Predictions were made that did not come to pass.

“It’s been suggested, because of his depression, it would be impossible for him to engage in this process and this has not proved to be the case.”

Dr Blackwood told the court it was important to consider Assange’s day-to-day functioning beyond what he says about his symptoms.

Assange got involved with painting, reading, exercise, and interacted well with others, he said.

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On whether Assange was on the autistic spectrum, Dr Blackwood said there had never been a diagnosis in his history.

If he was on the spectrum, it would be “at the very mildest end”, the psychiatrist suggested.

Dr Blackwood highlighted evidence of Assange being an “extraordinarily selfless father” to his two young children as well as his capacity for warmth, humour and the ability to “engage in banter”.

He added that he had been “highly functioning to a very high level in running a very successful organisation”.

The NHS doctor concluded that in his view, Assange had a “recurrent depressive disorder”.

He said: “When I saw him in April I thought he was moderately depressed and in my recent review of medical notes from Belmarsh with observations in July, there had been some improved state.

“I thought he was moderately depressed. I did not think this was a severe depressive disorder with psychotic symptoms.”

On the risk of suicide if he was extradited to the US, Dr Blackwood said: “I think there is some risk of suicide but that risk has to be carefully managed at Belmarsh prison.

“The risk factors are modifiable and he engages with treatment available to manage that risk.”

He told the court Assange had been put in the “healthcare” unit at Belmarsh prison after video footage of him emerged “to the governor’s consternation” so the decision was “administrative”.

The witness also noted that Assange had lost 5% of his body weight.

Under cross examination, Dr Blackwood was asked about the possible impact on Assange’s mental health if he were held under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) in a US jail.

He said: “My understanding is there is a range of approaches under that broad rubric of SAMs.”

He said in the most pessimistic case, there was “potential to impact on his mood state but I remain of the opinion that mood state is modifiable and any suicide risk is treatable.”

The hearing continues.

Picture: Reuters/Henry Nicholls

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