WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was at a ‘high risk’ of taking his own life, a psychiatrist told his extradition hearing.
Assange, 49, suffers from auditory hallucinations including hearing voices saying ‘we’re coming to get you’, the psychiatrist said.
Professor Michael Kopelman said Assange made preparations including confessing to a Catholic priest, drafting farewell letters to his family and close friends and drafting a will.
Assange is wanted in the US for allegedly conspiring with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to expose military secrets between January and May 2010.
He 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.
The court heard he has frequently called the Samaritans from prison and began to draft farewell letters to family members and close friends.
Professor Kopelman told the Old Bailey on Tuesday has has visited Assange some 20 times in high-security Belmarsh prison, where he is being held on remand.
Julian Assange, 49, suffers from auditory hallucinations including hearing voices saying ‘we’re coming to get you’, the psychiatrist said
He said Assange has a history of depression and has been suffering from hallucinations.
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.’
Professor Kopelman said: ‘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.’
The professor said the combination of Assange’s depression and ASD (autism spectrum disorder) has caused an ‘almost obsessional rumination’ on the topic.
He said: ‘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 underpants 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.
Professor Kopelman said Assange had been depressed ‘certainly throughout the time I’ve been seeing him’.
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
He added: ‘It’s fluctuated a bit, his appetite has fluctuated, he’s had persistent problems with sleep and his mood state is worst in the early hours of the morning and that’s stayed consistent.’
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.
Prof Kopelman said he is taking medication to treat depression and psychosis and has suffered physical symptoms, including a loss of appetite and problems with sleep.
He told the hearing: ‘Mr Assange was very reluctant to talk about his suicidal ideas and plans because he feared he would be put on constant watch or isolation.’
Mr Lewis said the previous suicide attempts were self-reported by Assange.
Heclaimed Assange reads medical journals such as ‘Nature’ and ‘New Scientist’ in order to exaggerate his psychiatric symptoms, which he said people in prison might do.
Professor Kopelman said Assange reads them ‘because he is very preoccupied with his health’ and is ‘a little bit hypochondriacal’.
He said Assange ‘reported a near-death experience and wondered if the CIA would find a way to get him or mess with his head’ which he said ‘may or may not’ be paranoia.
‘His main issue concerned his case being strong enough to fight the hundreds of lawyers the US had working against him* and how he can be helped in Belmarsh.’
Mr Lewis told Professor Kopelman that he was trying to change his mind about his diagnosis and told him he was an ‘advocate’.
Professor Kopelman said: ‘I’m a psychiatrist, you’re a lawyer. I make my diagnoses on my criteria.’
Mr Kopelman reported a conversation he had with Assange’s old friend, University of Melbourne professor Suelette Dreyfus.
He said: ‘She told me [Assange] would commit suicide and then [she] promptly burst into tears. That’s what convinced me.’
The court heard Assange’s son changed his name because of ‘death threats’ and ‘women stalkers’.
Mr Lewis said that Mr Assange had said his son changed his name because of assassination attempts against his father, while his partner said he did it because of ‘women stalkers’.
Professor Kopelman said: ‘They may not be inconsistent. There may be an element of truth in both.
‘He will be very embarrassed about all this coming out. He didn’t want it in the public domain.
‘I didn’t want to go into details about his son. He has a life of his own and I don’t think this was relevant with the report of Assange senior.’
In the report he wrote: ‘Ms Moris definitely thought Mr Assange would commit suicide if he were to lose the case.’
The US lawyer said Assange’s depression had not stopped him speaking publicly, working at WikiLeaks or ‘presenting a television show called the Julian Assange show for Russia Today.’
Professor Kopelman said Assange ‘wasn’t doing public speaking at the time I said he was depressed’.
The hearing continues.