Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Secretary-General Christophe Deloire and Director of Operations Rebecca Vincent have been barred access to visit Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison despite receiving confirmation that a visit would be permitted.
On 4 April, Deloire and Vincent were prevented from entering Belmarsh prison, despite having been vetted in advance and receiving confirmation that a visit with Julian Assange would be possible at 9:15 am. His wife, Stella Assange, was permitted to enter as scheduled.
Prison officials told the RSF representatives that they had “received intelligence” that they were journalists, and would therefore not be allowed in, per a decision of Belmarsh Prison Governor Jenny Louis. The Governor did not respond to urgent requests to meet Deloire and Vincent or to otherwise intervene to allow their access.
“We are deeply disappointed by the arbitrary decision of the Belmarsh Prison Governor to prevent us from visiting Julian Assange, despite following all relevant prison procedures and rules. Julian Assange has the right to receive visitors in prison, and we are legitimate to visit him as a press freedom NGO. We call for an urgent reversal of this decision and to be allowed visitation access without further delay.
“This is the latest in a long series of ludicrous obstacles that we have faced over the past three years in campaigning for the release of Julian Assange. At every level, British authorities have defaulted to secrecy and exclusion rather than allowing normal engagement around this case - from refusing to accept RSF petitions, to making it nearly impossible to access court, and now this. What do they have to hide? Regardless, we continue our campaign to #FreeAssange unabated. (Christophe Deloire, RSF Secretary-General)
RSF would have been the first NGO to gain access to Assange in Belmarsh prison, who has had only a handful of visitors beyond his immediate family during the nearly four years he has been incarcerated. Deloire and Vincent intended to assess Assange’s conditions and to speak with him about his case, as an NGO actively campaigning for his release - not as journalists. Deloire would have visited in his capacity as Secretary-General of the NGO, and Vincent as Director of Operations and Campaigns. Vincent has never worked as a journalist or held a press card. Deloire had previously visited Assange on three occasions during his period at the Ecuadorian embassy. (Rebecca Vincent, RSF Director of Operations and Campaigns)
This move comes in the aftermath of RSF facing extensive barriers in monitoring each stage of the extradition proceedings against Assange in London courts, for precisely the opposite reason, as RSF’s representatives were attending as NGO observers, and were not permitted to register for accreditation, as journalists would. RSF therefore could access court only via the public gallery, and was the only NGO that fought for this access at every stage of proceedings from 2020 to 2022.
RSF has also faced barriers in attempting to deliver #FreeAssange petitions to the UK government. In September 2020, 10 Downing Street refused to accept a petition of 108,000 signatures calling for the UK authorities not to extradite Assange. In May 2022, the Home Office refused to accept a further petition of 64,000 signatures urging the Home Secretary to reject the extradition order, although RSF was able to deliver it to the UK embassies in six other countries around the world.
British authorities prevented Reporters Without Borders from visiting Julian Assange
Despite having followed all the protocols and having the relevant authorisation, Christophe Deloire and Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s secretary-general and director of operations respectively, were denied access to Assange. The authorities at Belmarsh prison, where Assange is being held, argued that they could not allow them to enter because they were journalists. Deloire and Vincent asked to speak to the prison governor but were not received. According to RSF’s account, the decision to bar their entry was taken by Jenny Louis, who currently has that charge.
RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire, along with the NGO’s campaigns director Rebecca Vincent, went to the high-security prison after receiving confirmation that they would be able to visit Assange at 9.15am.
However, according to the NGO, they were barred by prison officials on the grounds that prison authorities had “received intelligence” that they were journalists and were therefore not allowed in.
RSF claims that the decision to prevent their entry was taken by the governor of Belmarsh Prison, Jenny Louis, who refused to receive them despite Deloire and Vincent’s urgent request to meet with her to arrange access.
In his social media statements, the RSF secretary general confirmed that they had followed all the rules, that Assange has the right to visits and that RSF is an organisation that defends journalists but is not an organisation of journalists. At the same time, he demands the reversal of this decision.
For his part, Vincent commented that throughout the three years of campaigning for Assange’s release, his organisation has had to face all kinds of obstacles and that this is one more of them.
So far, Julian Assange has not been visited by any NGO and it has been four years since he was taken to Belmarsh prison.