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Julian Assange 'faces fate worse than death' in US: WikiLeaks founder could serve life in isolation

Julian Assange 'faces a fate worse than death' in a lifetime of isolation at the 'Supermax' prison currently home to America's most violent terrorists and drug lords if he is extradited, a court has heard.

The Wikileaks founder, 49, could live out his years alone at maximum security ADX Colorado jail where he would spend 23 hours in a cell if he is convicted of espionage offences in the US.

Assange is wanted in the US for allegedly conspiring with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to expose military secrets between January and May 2010.

Prison expert Joel Sickler said the US government had 'raised the possibility of sending Mr Assange to ADX'. 

Julian Assange (pictured on January 13), 49, could live out his years alone at maximum security ADX Colerado jail where he would spend 23 hours in a cell if he is convicted of espionage offences in the US

He said the only time Assange would spend outside his cell - if sent to the prison -would be an hour in an individual cage for 'recreation time'.

In a statement read to court he said: 'It is my understanding that the United States Attorney’s Office that is prosecuting this case with the Department of Justice has said that Mr Assange would be subject to a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.

‘I believe, based on my understanding of the case, that this is a not unlikely proposition.'

He said Supermax was the only prison criticised as inhumane by its own staff, adding: ‘Robert Hood, the Warden says, “this is not built for humanity. I think that being there day by day, it's worse than death”.'

Prison expert Joel Sickler said the US government had 'raised the possibility of sending Mr Assange to ADX'. Pictured the exterior view of the US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, also known as the ADX or 'Supermax'

Mr Hood has worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in more than nine institutions over a period of 20 years. He served as a warden or associate warden at four of those.

Mr Sickler said at ADX, Assange’s once-a-month 15-minute call to his family and legal counsel would be monitored by the FBI.

The WikiLeaks founder could be placed on a prison regime called Special Administrative Measures (SAMS).

Stella Moris (left), the partner of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson outside the Old Bailey in London as the hearing in Assange's battle against extradition to the US continued today

This means he could be deprived of meals, phone calls, visits or interaction with other inmates.

Mr Sickler, who advises federal prison defence attorneys, said: ‘Based on decades of experience, over a dozen of my clients committed suicide, it can be done.

‘I think he is only going to go there if he is a SAMS inmate. There is an outside chance he will go there on other grounds.

‘SAMS will seal his fate. If he is given a life sentence he must start at a United State Penitentiary.

‘He is someone our government alleges has knowledge of certain highly qualified information.’

Meanwhile, Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei (pictured) has staged a silent protest against the extradition of Assange

He said Colorado ADX was 'America's strictest prison'. 

It is currently home to Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomb conspirator Terry Nichols, and the mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing Ramzi Yousef. 

‘Officially known as Administrative Maximum-Security United States Penitentiary (“ADX”); it is most known by its shorthand name, “Supermax”,' Mr Sickler added.

‘This is a facility is the most feared by inmates and is where the most violent offenders in the nation are sent. 

‘And this is where the Government, according to its own affidavit, sees as a potential prison placement for Mr Assange.  

‘A sentence roughly exceeding his natural life is a real possibility.' 

Julian Assange's father John Shipton with Chinese contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei after a silent protest outside the Old Bailey in London

He said it was the solitary nature of the ADX that made it so difficult for its inmates to bear. 'Should Mr Assange be sent to ADX he will almost certainly spend all his time in ADX in solitary,' he added.

‘It is that solitary structure that differentiates most of ADX from the Penitentiary on the same property.

‘While conditions at a penitentiary are severe, nothing compares to the near permanent solitary life of an inmate at ADX.

‘Most inmates at ADX are kept in their cells 22 or 23 hours a day with any limited recreation time being alone in individual cages.

‘The cells in the housing units at Florence ADX are arranged in a “linear design” down one side of a hallway (called the “unit range”), which prevents inmates from seeing each other.'

Weiwei departs after watching the trial of Assange in London at the Old Bailey Courthouse in London

Each cell measures around seven by twelve feet, has a poured concrete bed, desk, stool and a stainless-steel combination sink and toilet - as well as a shower with an automatic shut-off.

The beds have handles so the inmates can be tied down with four-point restraints where necessary.  

‘Each cell has a single, narrow window, approximately 42 inches tall by four inches wide, angled to allow inmates to see only the sky,' Mr Sickler added.

‘All cells have solid exterior doors with a closable slot and an interior cell door.’

Meanwhile, Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei has staged a silent protest against the extradition of Assange.

Ms Moris (left) and human rights lawyer Ms Robinson. Outside the Old Bailey in London, where his ongoing trial is taking place, Weiwei said Assange represents 'a core value of why we are free'

Assange’s case has attracted the support of high-profile figures including fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood, actress Pamela Anderson, and rapper MIA, who have spoken out in various forms for the Free Assange campaign. 

Outside the Old Bailey in London, where his ongoing trial is taking place, Weiwei said Assange represents 'a core value of why we are free'.

Weiwei, who knows Assange personally and has visited him at the Ecuadorian embassy and HMP Belmarsh high security prison in London, said: 'It’s getting more and more difficult for him.

'He is prepared to fight, but this is not fair to him. Free him, let him be a free man,' he added. 'He truly represents a core value of why we are free - because we have freedom of the press.

'We have to have that, to protect that value, otherwise who knows what’s going to happen.'

When asked why he chose to protest silently, Weiwei said: 'I think all the words we want to say are already there. To add anything, it’s just repeating.

'We need a lot of protesting, and it can take any form. I’m an artist, if I cannot use my art, it’s very limited, then I’d rather just be silent.'

Assange’s father, John Shipton, who was also protesting outside court, said Mr Weiwei’s support for his son gives his cause 'international meaning'.

'Ai Weiwei is an artist of gigantic international standing, he stands alongside Julian to give the fight international meaning,' he said.

'Really, he’s a tremendous man, I’ve known him for a few years now, we met at Belmarsh together, and he’s got a wonderfully steady nerve, you’d like him alongside you in any situation.'

The hearing continues. 

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