LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fathered two children while he was living in London's Ecuadorian Embassy, their mother said Sunday as she pleaded with British authorities to release him from prison over fears for his health amid the coronavirus epidemic.
Stella Morris, who was a member of Assange's legal team, publicly revealed that Assange was a parent for the first time in a video interview WikiLeaks released on its social media channels.
Assange, 48, is being kept in London's Belmarsh high-security prison while he fights extradition to the U.S., where he faces 18 counts, including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law.
He was dragged out of the embassy and arrested by British police almost exactly a year ago after his asylum was revoked.
Morris said in the video that she first met Assange in 2011 but that their relationship started four years later, when he was living in the embassy. They deliberately chose to have children to ''break down the walls around him" and "imagine a life beyond prison," she added.
She said she was worried that Assange's life "might be coming to an end" as he remains in confinement amid the coronavirus outbreak.
In a five-page witness statement, which has been seen by NBC News, Morris said she was going public in support of a bail application for Assange.
Assange's attorney Jennifer Robinson told NBC News in a statement Sunday that Morris had not made the decision to tell her story lightly, having fiercely protected her family's privacy for many years.
"She wanted to speak in support of Julian's bail application given the grave risk to his health in prison during the COVID pandemic and the judge refused her anonymity," Robinson said.
Assange's extradition hearing is scheduled to resume next month. Last month, he was denied bail after his attorneys said he should be released because he was highly vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Morris said she has gone to great lengths to shelter her children "from the climate that surrounds" Assange but felt that she needed to speak up because their lives are "on the brink" and she feared Assange could die in prison.
Download the TODAY app for the latest coverage on the coronavirus outbreak.
In her statement, signed March 24, Morris said she had recently learned that Assange is in isolation "for effectively 23 out of each 24 hours and perhaps longer," adding that she cannot visit him in prison because of the coronavirus epidemic.
She said she has sensed "an increasing fear and panic" in her phone conversations with Assange about the coronavirus situation at the prison.
"I have feared with strong reason for a long time that I will lose Julian to suicide if there is no way in which he can stop his extradition to the U.S.," Morris wrote.
"I now fear I may lose him for different reasons and sooner to the virus," she added.