Calls for Australia to 'get involved' in Assange extradition trial
Calls for Australia to 'get involved' in Assange extradition trial
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to seek political asylum in France
25 February, 2020, 13:13
A London court begins hearings on Monday to decide whether the Australian-born Assange should be extradited to the United States, nearly a decade after WikiLeaks enraged Washington by publishing secret US documents.
Mr Assange is facing extradition to the United States on 18 charges and faces up to 175 years in prison if found guilty.
He added the extradition attempt was directed at Assange "because of the political opinions he holds", and said he would be denied a fair trial in the United States. "Reporting or journalism is not an excuse for criminal activities or a licence to break ordinary criminal laws".
Dozens of Assange supporters protested noisily outside the high-security courthouse as District Judge Vanessa Baraitser began hearing the case. Assange, 48, watched proceedings from the dock in the courtroom - brought there from Belmarsh Prison next door, where he has been imprisoned for 10 months. He answered only to confirm his name and date of birth. He nodded towards reporters before taking his seat.
Assange has a myriad of high-profile and celebrity supporters, some of whom took to the streets of London on Saturday to demand his release.
He has been indicted in the USA on 18 charges over the publication of classified documents.
American authorities say Assange conspired with U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also says that he acted as a journalist and should be entitled to first amendment protection.
"These are ordinary criminal charges and any person, journalist or source who hacks or attempts to gain unauthorized access to a secure system or aids and abets others to do so is guilty of computer misuse", Lewis said.
While acknowledging that USA authorities could not prove that anyone had been killed, Lewis said WikiLeaks' information had helped America's enemies.Documents from WikiLeaks were found in al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan after he was killed in a US attack, the lawyer said.
The US Justice Department said last May that the "human resources" compromised by Assange "included local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents from repressive regimes".
Lewis said some informants and others who had been assisting the Americans had to be relocated after the leak, and others "subsequently disappeared".
"The principle of reciprocity is at the core of any extradition treaty", their spokesman Radd Seiger said.
Former Pink Floyd bassist and vocalist Roger Waters spoke during a recent interview about support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and blamed the "ruling class" on his imprisonment.
"We are talking about collateral murder, evidence of war crimes", she said.
Assange was in Britain when the allegations of sexual assault and rape in Sweden emerged in 2010, and was ordered by a London judge to be extradited there. He refused to go to Stockholm, saying he feared extradition or illegal rendition to the United States or the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In April 2019, Assange was dragged out of the embassy, where he was promptly arrested for breaching his United Kingdom police bail.
Julian Assange is responsible for putting the lives and well-being of United States government sources at "grave and imminent risk", it was claimed today by barrister James Lewis QC on behalf of the USA government.
Supporters hail Assange as an anti-establishment hero who revealed governments' abuses of power, and argue the action against him is a risky infringement of journalists' rights. And he said WikiLeaks' activities created a "grave and imminent risk" to US intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Iraq.
An end to the saga could still be years away.
The extradition hearing will continue for a week and then be placed on hold until May 18 so that both sides can gather more evidence ahead of a three-week hearing. The eventual decision, expected months later, is likely to be appealed against by whichever is the losing side.
Nick Vamos, a former head of extradition at Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, said that British extradition courts are familiar with arguments about political motivation - just not in relation to requests from the United States.
The case could also test the relationship between U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Trump.
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