Thursday 17 October 2019

Assange's extradition hearing is set for 2020

Behind bars: Julian Assange is serving time for jumping bail. Photo: AFP
Behind bars: Julian Assange is serving time for jumping bail. Photo: AFP

William Booth and Karla Adam

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told a British court yesterday that "175 years of my life is effectively at stake" as a judge ruled he would face a full extradition hearing in early 2020.

At a largely procedural hearing, Assange appeared via video link from Belmarsh, a maximum-security prison on the outskirts of London.

Assange sported a shaggy white beard and wore a blue sweatshirt and black-framed glasses. He looked tired. His lawyers said he was receiving medical care at the prison.

Chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot at the Westminster Magistrates' Court said the full extradition hearing to decide whether Assange should be sent to the United States to stand trial for espionage will take place in February next year. A handful of protesters outside the court held banners that read "Hands off Assange, Don't Shoot the Messenger" and "1984 is so yesterday".

Ben Brendan, the lawyer representing the US government in the extradition request, said the case is "related to one of the largest compromises of confidential information in the history of the United States".

One of Assange's lawyers, Mark Summer, said the extradition "represents an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights."

Assange is under investigation in the United States for his role in the disclosure of a trove of secret military and diplomatic cables. He is also accused of conspiring to hack into a US Defence Department computer.

In a previous hearing, Assange made it clear he would not willingly surrender to US authorities.

The Australian is currently serving a 50-week jail sentence at Belmarsh for jumping bail when he fled to the Ecuadoran embassy in 2012. His lawyers said yesterday he has no access to a computer or email and that court documents are sent to him by mail.

Legal analysts said Assange would normally be eligible for an early, structured release after serving half his sentence. But they said this does not apply in this case because of the extradition request.

Earlier this week, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed a formal extradition request from the US. He told the BBC it was now a decision for the British courts.

"We've got a legitimate extradition request, so I've signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts," said Javid.

Assange was initially charged with one count of conspiring with a US Army intelligence analyst now known as Chelsea Manning to break into a government computer. Last month, US prosecutors announced 17 new charges, under the Espionage Act, for his role in the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents. (© The Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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