Assange extradition battle resumes after coronavirus delays

US says WikiLeaks founder conspired to hack gov’t computers, but supporters claim Assange is being unfairly targeted.

The US extradition trial for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange resumed on Monday at London’s Old Bailey court, with the whistle-blower’s lawyers arguing that he would not receive a fair trial in the United States on political charges.

The hearing had been delayed due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Assange appeared in the dock wearing a dark suit and maroon tie – the first time he has been seen in public since the first part of the hearing in February.

He spoke to confirm his name and date of birth, and said he did not consent to extradition.

US authorities accuse Australian-born Assange, 49, of conspiring to hack government computers and of violating an espionage law in connection with the release of confidential cables by WikiLeaks in 2010-2011.

But his supporters say the US is attempting to target him for leaking secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange formally declined to be extradited to face a superseding indictment issued by US authorities in June.

Several dozen supporters, including fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Assange’s partner Stella Moris, gathered outside the court before the hearing on Monday.

Earlier, Moris delivered an 80,000-signature-strong petition opposing his extradition to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office.

In an interview published in The Times newspaper, Moris, 37, said: “For Julian, extradition will be a death sentence.”

She said she feared he would take his own life, leaving their two young sons, who were conceived during his asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy, without a father.

Journalist John Pilger said outside the court on Monday: “The extradition hearing in London beginning this week is the final act of an Anglo-American campaign to bury Julian Assange. It is not due process. It is due revenge. The American indictment is clearly rigged, a demonstrable sham. So far, the hearings have been reminiscent of their Stalinist equivalents during the Cold War.”

Hearing to decide whether Assange should be extradited to U.S. in London
Fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood gestures as she holds a ball with a word ‘justice’ written on it outside Assange’s court hearing in London [Peter Nicholls/Reuters]

Assange made international headlines in 2010 when WikiLeaks published a US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

The site later published vast troves of US military records and diplomatic cables.

He has also attracted more recent criticism for WikiLeaks’s release of documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee, which damaged nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 US presidential campaign.

He has denied accusations by US investigators that WikiLeaks obtained those documents from Russian hackers. The issue is not part of the legal proceedings.

Political charges

The pursuit of the whistle-blower was part of US President Donald Trump’s “effective declaration of war on leakers and journalists”, Assange’s lawyers argued in court papers.

“He was an obvious symbol of all that Trump condemned, having brought American war crimes to the attention of the world.”

Assange’s legal travails in the UK date to 2010, when he began fighting an attempt to extradite him to Sweden to answer questions about allegations of sexual assault, which have since been dropped.

In June 2012, facing imminent extradition, he sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy.

After Ecuador revoked his asylum, he was dragged out of the embassy in April 2019 and served a short British prison sentence for violating bail terms.

He remains jailed pending the outcome of the US extradition request. 

The hearing is expected to last weeks, until early October, with a decision about a month later.

Source: News Agencies