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Julian Assange’s risk of suicide ‘very high’, psychiatrist tells court

“It is the imminence of extradition and/or an actual extradition that will trigger the attempt, in my opinion.

“It will be borne directly out of his clinical depression, exacerbated by his anxiety syndrome and his PTSD and executed with the single-minded determination of his autism spectrum disorder Asperger’s,” he said.

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He also listed other factors compounding the risk of Assange taking his own life, including the reported high risk of suicide among inmates in single cells, the intensity of Assange’s suicidal preoccupations, evidence of planning and preparation, as well as his own “acute awareness of the prospects he faces”.

Kopelman said Assange had reported to him that he had been hallucinating, including hearing voices and music in his head, as well as having somatic hallucinations whereby a person experiences physical sensations despite no contact taking place.

“The voices are things like, ‘You are dust, you are dead, we’re coming to get you.’ They are derogatory and persecutory,” Kopelman said.

“Mr Assange will be very embarrassed about this coming out in public,” he added. He said that anti-psychotic drugs had helped suppress the hallucinations.

Inside the embassy of Ecuador in London, where Julian Assange was based.

Inside the embassy of Ecuador in London, where Julian Assange was based.Credit:ABC

The court heard that Assange had a genetic predisposition to depression and a history of suicide in his family with an uncle and his maternal grandfather both taking their own lives.

Assange was first admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a week in 1991 after self harming and was first diagnosed with depression in 1994, according to a general practitioner who prepared a medical report for a legal case regarding custody of his first son, Daniel, now 31.

The court heard Assange became depressed during the seven years he spent in the Ecuadorian embassy where he sought political asylum to escape extradition to Sweden to answer rape and sexual assault charges.

Stella Moris, Assange’s fiancee and the mother of his two youngest children, Gabriel, 3, and Max, 18 months, has repeatedly said she fears for his life if he loses his legal fight.

Under cross-examination, Kopelman said, “Every time I go to see someone in a prison, I am aware of the possibility they may be exaggerating their condition, every time.”

“There is an obvious external incentive here … namely that Mr Assange avoids extradition to the United States of America?” asked James Lewis, QC, acting for the US government.

“That is correct and I have borne that in mind,” Kopelman said.

The US has indicted the Australian on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US military documents a decade ago. He faces a maximum of 175 years in jail if convicted.

Assange says he is a journalist and his prosecution is political. Under Britain’s Extradition Act, a person can avoid being extradited if a judge accepts that their human rights would be violated.

Assange’s hearing is expected to continue until early October.

If you are troubled by this report or experiencing a personal crisis, you can call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. Beyond Blue’s coronavirus mental wellbeing support service is on 1800 512 348.

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