Chinese artist Ai Weiwei visits Julian Assange in prison

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Julian Assange was today visited by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and his father in prison as the US sent Britain a formal request to extradite him in a bid to put him on trial for leaking military secrets. 

The WikiLeaks founder was moved to a medical ward at high-security HMP Belmarsh in South East London last month and his supporters expressed ‘grave concerns’ about his health.

Assange is serving a 50-week prison sentence after being dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in April and jailed for a bail violation.

Justice Department officials sent the official request on Thursday, meeting a 60-day deadline after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested on April 11, government sources told the Washington Post.  

Assange is accused of working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in ‘unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defence’. 

The Justice Department said that by publishing unredacted versions of the leaked files, Assange put ‘named human sources at a grave and imminent risk’.

However, Assange is expected to fight the extradition and his lawyers may argue the charges are politically motivated.   

MailOnline has approached the UK Home Office for comment. 

Weiwei, who was detained without charge in China for 81 days in 2011 during a crackdown on political activists, is believed to have previously visited Assange in 2015 when he was holed up inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

The 47-year-old’s father John Shipton arrived at the prison today with Ai Weiwei this afternoon.

After visiting his son, Mr Shipton said: ‘It was just very moving to see Julian, particularly in those circumstances, coming out of sick bay and having lost 10kg weight.’

He said: ‘I think he’ll be alright.’

Mr Shipton said he shared a hug with his son, adding: ‘It was a bit moving, not a hug that you want to end.’

Asked if his son was emotional, he said: ‘I was a bit overwhelmed myself. I wasn’t checking on the others. I think those things are infectious.’

Mr Shipton said his son’s weight has now ‘stabilised’ and he expects he will be moving out of the sick bay and back into the prison population.

‘The big problem there is that Julian has no access to the means to prepare his case. And his case, I think, has another two months before its full hearing.

‘He needs more access to the means to prepare his defence against this terrible extradition order.’

Mr Shipton said during the prison visit his son asked him to move from Melbourne in Australia to the UK.

‘He just said could I move over to the UK and I said ‘yes, I’ll be here in August’,’ he said, adding: ‘I’m delighted.’

Mr Shipton, who last spent time with his son at Christmas in the Ecuadorean Embassy, said he could see a ‘considerable change’ in him and said his speech is ‘considered’. 

He said he and his son had dinner together at Christmas in the embassy surrounded by photos of family.

‘He’s a very emotional person, very loyal to his family,’ he said.

Mr Shipton said Assange remains ‘optimistic’ and ‘spirited’, adding that he is looking forward to the end of his sentence when he goes on remand which will allow more visits and access to papers.

‘We did talk about Julian being an icon of what the press is undergoing, and journalism is undergoing, free speech is undergoing and the ability to criticise government is undergoing all through the rest of the world,’ he said.

Earlier this month, a Swedish court rejected a request from prosecutors for the Australian to be detained in his absence.

Prosecutors had said they would issue a European Arrest Warrant if the request had been granted, but Uppsala District Court rejected the request.

An investigation has been reopened into an allegation of rape in Sweden, which Assange has always denied. He also faces an extradition request from the US on allegations of spying.

A case management hearing for that matter is due to take place on Friday at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, and Assange is expected to appear via video link from prison.

He did not appear at a short hearing on May 30, where chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot and solicitor Gareth Peirce referred to him as ‘not very well’.

Just a few hours before that hearing, WikiLeaks said it had ‘grave concerns about the state of health of our publisher, Julian Assange, who has been moved to the health ward of Belmarsh prison’.

A spokesman added: ‘During the seven weeks in Belmarsh his health has continued to deteriorate and he has dramatically lost weight. The decision of the prison authorities to move him into the health ward speaks for itself.’

Assange sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 after the leaks of hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables on his whistleblowing website.

He was charged in the US last month with receiving and publishing thousands of classified documents linked to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US justice department indicted Assange on 18 counts that relate to his ‘alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States’, it said.

He is accused of working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in ‘unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defence’, a statement said. 

After the indictment under the Espionage Act was announced last month, WikiLeaks swiftly issued a tweet describing the move as ‘madness’.

‘It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment,’ it said.  

Manning handed over databases containing roughly 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports and 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activities reports, the Justice Department said.

There were also 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs and 250,000 US Department of State cables, it added.

Assange was dramatically dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy in London in April, seven years after he sought political asylum there.

Ecuador lost patience with Assange and accused him of creating conflict by meddling in international affairs and harassing staff at the embassy. 

He was then jailed for 50 weeks by a UK court for a bail breach.

U.S. authorities allege the whistleblower conspired with Manning ‘with reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation’.

Assange published the documents on WikiLeaks with unredacted names of sources who gave information to US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

‘These human sources included local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents from repressive regimes,’ the Justice Department said.

Manning, 31, was freed from prison in 2017 after her sentence was reduced by then-President Barack Obama.      

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