Psychiatrist tells extradition hearing Julian Assange has been hearing voices

A supporter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside the Old Bailey, in London last Monday.

A supporter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside the Old Bailey, in London last Monday. Photo: AP

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 Australian 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.

Professor Kopelman told the Old Bailey on Tuesday he had 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.”

Details of Julian Assange’s failing health is being revealed in court. Photo: AAP

Professor 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 Professor 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 underwear 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.

Professor 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.

Professor Kopelman said Assange was taking medication to treat depression and psychosis and has suffered physical symptoms, including a loss of appetite and problems with sleep.

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