Julian Assange fights extradition to US to face espionage trial
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday formally refused to go quietly to face trial in the US — which the mother of his children insisted was a fight for his life.
After a six month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, court proceedings resumed Monday in London’s top criminal court as the US fights to get him to face 18 espionage and computer misuse charges that carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Assange, clean-shaven and wearing a suit, sat in the Old Bailey’s dock and formally refused the US extradition request.
Dozens gathered outside the courthouse to show their support, including flamboyant fashion designer Vivienne Westwood who told reporters she had “lost days and years of sleep worrying about Julian Assange.”
The hacker’s father, John Shipton, insisted it was an “abuse trial” as he arrived to support his son who has already spent almost a year and a half in a British prison.
Assange’s partner Stella Moris — his former lawyer who secretly had two children with him — earlier took a petition signed by 80,000 to Downing Street and gave a new interview about her fears for his life.
“If Julian is extradited, my children will be fatherless,” she told SBS News, insisting their family — with sons Gabriel, 3, and Max, 1 — is “a real thing” and not a PR stunt.
“I’m fighting for Julian’s life here. He can’t be extradited, that will be it. He won’t survive it.
“My children need to grow up with their father,” she said, saying she is “always going to be here for him and waiting for him to come home.”
American prosecutors have previously claimed that Assange’s document dump put secret sources at “grave and imminent risk” — with some even allegedly disappearing.
But Assange’s lawyers argued in court papers that he would not receive a fair trial in the US because of an “effective declaration of war on leakers and journalists.”
They argue that he is a journalist entitled to First Amendment protection, and say the leaked documents exposed US military wrongdoing, including a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.
“Journalists and whistle-blowers who reveal illegal activity by companies or governments and war crimes — such as the publications Julian has been charged for — should be protected from prosecution,” Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson said before the hearing.
American authorities allege that Assange conspired with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a new indictment filed in June, US prosecutors also say he conspired with members of hacking organizations — including Anonymous — and sought to recruit hackers to provide WikiLeaks with classified information. That indictment expanded the case against Assange but did not add any new charges.
Amnesty International said Assange was “the target of a negative public campaign by US officials at the highest levels.”
The case is due to run until early October. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is expected to take weeks or even months to consider her verdict, with the losing side likely to appeal.
With Post wires
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