With Washington fighting tooth-and-nail to extradite him from the UK, the notion that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange might die in prison is looking increasingly probable. At this point, it's more a matter of when: A few weeks, or a few decades.
Assange's health has reportedly deteriorated to such a terrifying degree that a group of 60 doctors have written an open letter warning that they fear the renegade journalist could soon die in a British jail if he doesn't receive more intensive medical care, the Guardian reports. It's likely, for example, that he won't even live long enough to make it to his extradition hearing in February.
In the "open" letter (which was nevertheless still addressed to British Home Secretary Priti Patel), the doctors called for Assange to be moved to a university teaching hospital from his current digs at the Belmarsh Prison on southeast London.
The doctors based their assessment of Assange's health on the "harrowing eyewitness accounts" of his Oct. 21 court appearance in London and a Nov. 1 report by Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, who has repeatedly issued warnings about Assange's treatment by the British. In his November report, Melzer said warned that Assange's "continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life."
In the letter - which stretched to 16 pages - the doctors expressed "serious concerns" about Assange's mental and physical health.
"We write this open letter, as medical doctors, to express our serious concerns about the physical and mental health of Julian Assange," the letter read.
They expressed doubts about his ability to withstand the full extradition hearing, which is presently set for February.
"Mr Assange requires urgent expert medical assessment of both his physical and psychological state of health," the wrote.
"Any medical treatment indicated should be administered in a properly equipped and expertly staffed university teaching hospital (tertiary care)."
"Were such urgent assessment and treatment not to take place, we have real concerns, on the evidence currently available, that Mr Assange could die in prison. The medical situation is thereby urgent. There is no time to lose."
The doctors who signed the letter are from the US, Australia, Britain, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Sri Lanka, Poland.
This isn't the first warning about Assange's rapidly deteriorating health. Many observers commented during his arrest in April that he looked disheveled and frighteningly pale as he was being dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy by British police after spending seven years holed up in tiny quarters in the embassy.
Assange is still fighting the US bid to extradite him from Britain on what were first relatively minor charges, before upgrading Assange's charges to violations of the Espionage Act that could lead to a prison sentence of more than 100 years. Lawyers have warned that, should he be prosecuted in the US on these charges, the case could pose a serious threat to the freedoms of investigative national-security reporters, who routinely accept classified information from sources inside the government.
Read the full letter below: