Saturday 21 September 2019

'I'm a journalist protecting many, many people,' Assange tells court from jail

Video link: Julian Assange spoke from prison. Photo: Peter Nicholls
Video link: Julian Assange spoke from prison. Photo: Peter Nicholls

Michael Holden

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange yesterday told a London court his work had protected "many people" and refused to agree to be extradited to the United States to face trial for one of the largest compromises of classified information in history.

The US has requested the extradition of Mr Assange, who was dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy in London on April 11, and charged him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. It carries a maximum five-year penalty.

Asked at a preliminary hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court whether he agreed to be extradited, Mr Assange, appearing via a video link from prison, said: "I do not wish to surrender for extradition. I'm a journalist winning many, many awards and protecting many people."

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

He is seen as a hero by supporters for exposing what they see as abuse of power and for championing free speech. To opponents, he is a dangerous rebel who has undermined US security.

On Wednesday, the Australian was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail after fleeing to Ecuador's London embassy where he remained for seven years.

Mr Assange had sought refuge in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face an allegation of rape, which he denies, saying he feared he would be sent to the US.

Hours after his arrest, American prosecutors said they had charged Mr Assange with conspiracy in trying to access a classified computer.

"The charge relates to one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States," said Ben Brandon, the lawyer representing the US.

He said in early 2010, former American intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning had downloaded 90,000 activity reports relating to the Afghan war, 400,000 relating to the conflict in Iraq, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs and 250,000 diplomatic cables.

The vast majority were later released on WikiLeaks.

There were computer room chats showing real-time discussions between Manning and Mr Assange over cracking a password to gain access to classified documents and the public release of the information, Mr Brandon said.

"Despite what you heard from the prosecutor, this case is not about hacking," Mr Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson said outside court.

"This case is about a journalist and a publisher who had conversations with a source about accessing material, encouraged that source to provide material and spoke to that source about how to protect their identity. This is protected activity that journalists engage in all the time."

The case was adjourned until May 30. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

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