RT Moscow Journalist: This is Vaughan Smith is an independent video journalist and also a friend of Julian Assange who kindly joins me on the line now. A very good evening to you Vaugn. I cant imagine that Julian Assange has too many phone calls he could make but he did make one of them to you I believe on Christmas Eve. What did he say about he feels his mental, physical condition and the conditions at Belmarsh prison where he is?
Vaughan Smith: To be honest he didn’t talk too much about his conditions, Julian rang me because he spent Christmas with me and my family in 2010 while on bail all that time ago. I think he simply wanted a few minutes of escape and to talk to us because of the memory of that, happy memories.
His speech was slurred, he was speaking slowly. Now Julian is a highly articulate very clear person when he speaks, and he sounded awful and it was very upsetting to hear him. He didnt actually say he was sedated, it seemed pretty obvious that he was and the idea that he is being sedated has come from several people who have visited him who have clearly been told and the British Government have been asked about it and they refuse to address that matter. So waht they say is that are not mistreating him but clearly he is being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and not addressing these allegations and I think we need to know more about it. What is happening to Julian? What are they doing to him?
RT Moscow: I was just wondering what your thoughts were at the time. You must have had lots of questions you wanted to ask him out of natural curiosity, especially considering your a journalist but at the same time your thinking well lets talk about what he wants to talk about
Vaughan Smith: Yes, I understood from what he said that he was allowed one call for Christmas and that he chose to call us and so he spoke to my family and my wife and my children and we just wanted to do what we could to cheer him up. It was incredibly sad to hear him. He is obviously having a really vile time and I just dont understand why is he in Belmarsh Prison in the first place. He is a remand prisoner and actually putting someone in Belmarsh is an incredibly expensive thing to do why are we spending this money on Julian Assange, he is not a danger to the public.
RT Moscow: I wanted to ask you, given the reports he is in solitary confinement, why on earth would that be. One tends to think of dangerous individuals and or in fact people who are a danger to themselves to be put in solitary confinement but why Julian Assange
Vaughan Smith: I think the British Government need to answer some questions about his conditions here and we are not getting the answers, there are too many questions like this and now the thing is that is clear is that what is happening to Julian is much more about vengeance and setting an example to dissuade other people from holding American power to account in this way. So actually perhaps we are supposed to know these things about him. I know it sounds awful but is that really possible. I think we need some answers from the British Government. Why are they treating him like this? Why cant we have some independent assessment? A hundred international doctors have asked to arrange a visit, at least to send some representatives to check on him but that hasnt been allowed. Nils Melser the UN Rappateur on Torture has been very clear on Assange’s mistreatment and describes it in the most appalling terms and yet claims that as recently as November the British Government has completely ignored his requests to see Julian properly his health properly assessed.
RT Moscow: How did he compare to the Julian Assange you know in terms of how he spoke and his spirits
Vaughan Smith: Julian was extremely good company over Christmas in 2010. He had a great Christmas despite the fact he was restrained and had to live only in my house. His whole face looked different. You know he lost more than 15 kilograms now. He was very good company and you know just hearing him on the phone he sounded awful and he said to me “I am slowly dying here”. He said that also to my wife, not of course to my children. His father keeps telling us this. His father is telling us this too. We must stop this. What I find so depressing as a country is that clearly we harbour political prisoners, we have political prisoners because that is exactly what he is. I didnt think we were the sort of country that mistreated them in this way.
RT Moscow: This must be quite shocking given what we know about Julian Assange, given what the public knows. This is a man whose obviously got strongly held beliefs and principles who was willing to defacto be in prison inside the Embassy for several years for what he believes in. To hear him sound so down beaten must be quite shocking.
Vaughan Smith: It is shocking and I think it shows, reveals alot about our country that I think we need to attend to. I think a country is judged by the way it treats people that perhaps are contentious that we dont agree with today that perhaps future generations will treat quite differently or percieve quite differently. That has happened many time historically. I think we have to find a way to treat people like Julian Assange who are saying things to us that perhaps not all of us want to hear in a way that reflects the values of the society that we claim to hold.
RT Moscow: I was just thinking he has not really been found guilty of any wrong doing as of yet apart from skipping bail but he believes he is running away from charges that he never carried out. If he should let specualte been found completely innocent of any charges in the US, doesn’t go to prison, what on earth can you do to try and make things right given everything Julian Assange has been through
Vaughan Smith: I think that is a very interesting question but please remember that he has served the time for the bail charge, he has served his time for that. He is now on remand. It is highly unusual to put a remand prisoner in Belmarsh when they are not a physical or violent threat to society. Many of the court cases, he is about to have a case, his main case in February, its going to be held at Belmarsh where there is restricted public access. The whole thing we really need to be asking more questions. This needs to be held much more in the open. As to how anyone might come to redress such ills, I dont think that ever happens. Julian has had his freedom compromised for nearly a decade now. Its completely, this is bullying and he deserves better.
RT Moscow: You talked about the 60 doctors writing to the UK Government. Youve got medical experts saying they are fearful for his condition. Julian Assange himself saying he feels like he is dying in prison. It all appears to make no sense at all. The fact that he is being held in such conditions. What do you think the fears of the government are as they seem to breaking the normal rules of the way they would treat a prisoner in such a situation. What do you think they are so afraid of?
Vaughan Smith: I think is this world where elections can be won on Facebook, where information is power and where authorities can gather a great deal of information an unprecedented amount of information. I think Julian represents something for the public that concerns power because potentially it constrains it. What Julian represents is incredibly important to the public and I think its time for the public to say we want some answers and we would to have people treated a little bit better. Of course what Julian has done is contentious but he did he delivered a discussion a debate on what transparency should look like in the digital age in the internet age. The debate got squashed, it never really happened. Instead he has been victimised and been promoted with a vast smear campaign online as someone who is a threat to the public. Thats why he is Belmarsh. I think its very worrying. Its also very worrying to journalism. Whats happening to Julian, if Julian is extradited to America it does open the door to similar sorts of matters, of cases for restrictions to happen to the more regular press who wont have the protection of Julian whose function as he set himself up to deliver was to process whistleblowing material. So will we not get that? Nothing Julian has published has been inaccurate, its been all the truth. Isnt that all we have, the truth? Isnt that of great importance to the public to have the truth
RT Moscow: As a journalist myself, my biggest concern, different to what you think is that he published these materials and seems to have been published prior to any kind of official trial. I mean the man been through hell and back and he is yet to tried for anything. That concerns me, what about you?
Vaughan Smith: I am very concerned, and I think the case in February is going to be very interesting and I hope there is a great deal of public interest in it because there should be great public concern but on the one hand the act, the extradition acts from the US to the UK doesnt allow for the extradition of political prisoners so I dont know how that is going to work. The other thing the Americans have been caught spying on Julian Assanges legal team and that’s someting of a no no too I mean how can you have a fair trial if the prosecutors have secret access because they have spied on the defence team. At the same time Julian has clearly said and in court I heard him he didnt feel able, he didnt have access to the materials he needed to participate in his defence and yet still it hasnt changed and I am extremely worried because it reflects our countries legal system in a way that clearly the law is not applied equally to us all and I find that deeply shocking.