Assange's Trial for U.S. Extradition Begins in London

The case for extradition to the U.S. began on Monday, as thousands of protesters show their support to Assange.

The first day of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's legal battle to prevent his extradition to the United States began on Monday amid strong social protests in support of the Australian journalist. 

RELATED: Jailed Wikileaks Founder Assange's Health Improving: Spokesman

The case for Assange's extradition to the U.S. was opened at Woolwich Crown Court in southeast London as the sound of protest was heard in the distance. The slogans "Free Julian Assange", "Journalism is not a crime", "Free press, Free Assange", were repeated over and over again in the crowd.

Celebrities such as Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters, Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood have joined the wave of protests taking place since last Saturday, to protest spying charges against Assange.

"Assange is an innocent man, wrongly accused. The only reason he is on trial is for exposing information that is inconvenient for the United States government," Roger Waters has told reporters.

However, lawyers acting for the U.S. government have said on the first day of the legal battle that Assange "is not charged with disclosure of embarrassing or awkward information that the government would rather not have disclosed. The disclosures charges are solely where there was a risk of risk."

James Lewis QC, one of the U.S. government's lawyers, added that "by disseminating material in an unredacted form Assange knowingly put human rights activists, dissidents, journalists and their families at risk of serious harm in states operated by oppressive regimes."

The Australian journalist, accused of working with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak classified documents, faces charges of "theft and computer hacking, and of published information and identification of informants in Iraq and Afghanistan knowing they would be at risk of harm," Lewis said.

Assange's defense seeks to suggest that the risk to these individuals who, by having the individuals revealed as informants, is somehow overstated.

"But I would remind the court that these were individuals who were passing on information on regimes such as Iran and organizations such as al-Qaida," said Lewis.

"Journalism is not an excuse for breaking the law," Lewis concluded in Woolwich Crown Court.

Assange's case has received worldwide support. The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner commented last week that "Assange should not be extradited because of the potential impact on press freedom and concerns about the real risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

"Assange will face what is a death sentence if he is sent to the United States," said the father of the Australian journalist, John Shipton.

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Huge march in London to demand freedom for Julian Assange

In London, hundreds of free speech activists Saturday marched from the Australia House to Parliament Square in support of Julian Assange who faces a court that will decide whether or not he'll be extradited to the United States.

Beginning Monday, London's Woolwich Crown Court will examine a U.S. request which demands that Assange be handed over to judge him for the dissemination of classified files on military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.   In the U.S., the Australian journalist who helped unveil Washington's war crimes faces 17 charges for espionage, which could condemn him up to 175 years in jail.  

Upon arriving at Parliament Square, social activists gathered to listen to speeches and shouted phrases such as "Assange's freedom is our freedom," "Journalism is not a crime," and "Jail war criminals, Free Julian Assange."

​​​​​His father John Shipton, WikiLeak supporters, Stop the War Coalition activists, journalists and other personalities of the British pop culture took part in the march.

"Prime Minister Johnson, act as an English bulldog, face the U.S hegemony, and cancel this judicial farce," the Pink Floyd's guitarist Roger Waters demanded.  "Delivering Assange to Justice will be the end of freedom of expression," the musician Brian Eno warned.

"We face a dark force that wants to extradite Assange and throw him into a dungeon forever.  We must stop this," WikiLeaks Editor in Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson stressed.

Assange has been in Belmarsh prison since May 2019, after being sentenced to 50 weeks in jail for breaching his bail conditions to avoid extradition to Sweden.  Despite the end of this period, a British judge ordered the Australian journalist to remain in prison while facing proceedings regarding his possible extradition to the United States.

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WikiLeaks demands answers as Twitter account locked ahead of Assange extradition hearing

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson is seeking answers after the publisher’s official account was mysteriously locked, ahead of an extradition hearing for founder Julian Assange, who faces life in prison if he is sent to the United States.

Hrafnsson claimed the @wikileaks Twitter account had been locked “shortly before Assange extradition hearing” and for no apparent reason, in a post from his personal account on Monday.  Lamenting he had been unable to “reach a human at Twitter” for answers, Hrafnsson tagged both the platform’s tech support and CEO Jack Dorsey.

The @wikileaks account’s most recent posts date back to February 9 and concern the dire precedent set by extraditing a publisher to stand trial on espionage charges.  Assange’s extradition hearing in the UK, which a court ordered to be split into two parts, is set to begin this week, while the second half is scheduled for May. 

The publisher’s lawyers have complained that access to their client is being restricted, and Assange was only recently moved from solitary confinement at Belmarsh prison after his fellow inmates staged a protest. The UN special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer has accused the UK government of contributing to Assange’s “psychological torture” after examining the activist last year.

Assange supporters flocked to Hrafnsson’s post to pile on Dorsey and Twitter, demanding to know why Assange’s rights – as an individual on the Council of Europe’s protected list, as well as a journalist – were not being respected.

The WikiLeaks account isn’t the first associated with Assange to be mysteriously frozen – Assange’s personal account was deleted, undeleted, and finally suspended, where it remains, while he was still under siege at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. 

There does seem to be a coordinated campaign to memory-hole the WikiLeaks founder, who has been pursued by the US government for over a decade for publishing its deepest darkest secrets and who faces a potential 175-year prison sentence if extradited from the UK.  

Media reports on press freedom have conspicuously avoided all mention of the incarcerated publisher, while a “media freedom” conference held in London last year also avoided mention of the elephant in the room. 

Assange was charged in May last year with 17 counts of espionage related to obtaining and disseminating classified information as well as with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, all stemming from the publication of the documents that have become known as the Afghan and Iraq War Logs. 

The court where his case will be heard is infamous for its 100 percent conviction rate on national security cases, meaning his extradition will almost certainly result in Assange spending the rest of his life in prison. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence apparatus has been hard at work demonizing Assange and WikiLeaks, declaring “public disclosure organizations” like it to be as much of a threat to the US as terrorist groups and hostile governments, in its biannual National Counterintelligence Strategy Report, released last week. 

Edited by Ed Newman
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Lawyer says Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the U.S.

London, December 20 (RHC)-- During a hearing before the Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, Julian Assange's lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, requested that the founder of Wikileaks not be extradited to the United States, arguing that the alleged crimes of his defendant have a political character.

Fitzgerald mentioned that the United Kingdom-United States extradition treaty bans extradition of persons linked to political offenses, which is precisely the situation of his defendant.  The judicial action is part of the preparation of Assange's extradition trial to the U.S., which is expected to take place on February 24, 2020.  On this matter, however, Clair Dobbin, representing the U.S. authorities, asked for the case to be delayed until April, which the Westminster Court did not accept.  

The defense lawyer also reiterated his complaints about the "big problems" his team faces in contacting Assange in prison and recalled that the Australian journalist does not have access to a suitable computer to prepare his argument.​​​​​​

In November, 60 doctors from several countries sent an open letter to British Home Secretary Priti Patel warning her him that Assange could die in jail if he did not receive urgent medical attention.  Although he already served the 50-week jail sentence for breaking the conditions of his probation in 2012, he remains jailed because a court considered that he could escape the U.K. if he left the cell.

In June, former Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed an order to allow Assange to be handed over to the United States, where he could be sentenced up to 170 years in prison.​​​​​​​  U.S. authorities accuse him of conspiring to hack government computers and extract secret documents, which ​​​​​​​would have been published at the WikiLeaks portal.

On Friday, the Spanish judge Jose de la Mata will take a statement from Assange about the alleged espionage he was subjected to during his stay at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.  This interrogation is part of an investigation of the Spanish company Undercover Global, which was responsible for the security of the embassy.​​​​​​​

Edited by Ed Newman
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Russia expresses concern for Julian Assange's health

The health situation of Julian Assange, who is being held in London, worsens while he is awaiting extradition to the United States, warned Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zajárova.

Assange is seriously ill because he has no medical assistance or good nutrition, in addition to alleged psychological torture, the Russian official reported.  "The situation created around him testifies to the violation by the Western world of every imaginable law and rule that guarantees the freedom and security of journalists," Zajárova added.

In addition, he noted that this is a true lynching towards a person who is dedicated to real journalism.

Russia's concern adds to that of specialists from England and other European countries, who have stated that Assange needs to be transferred to a medical center with qualified personnel to examine their physical and mental health status.

"Mr. Assange's situation is critical.  We believe that his extradition to the United States is unfounded and illegal.  Assange is being held in the London jail under conditions that contradict essential human rights," said the head of the international legal team of Assange, Baltasar Garzón.

Assange's father, John Shipton, also expressed concern about his son's health and at the time said he fears he may die in jail after the physical and mental conditions he suffers.

In June 2012 Julian Assange, took refuge in the embassy of Ecuador based in London to evade his extradition to the United States.  The WikiLeaks founder is currently under extradition request by U.S. authorities for an espionage charge for showing the world the secret activities of the U.S. army in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Edited by Ed Newman
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‘Mr Assange could die in prison. There is no time to lose’ – over 60 medics in open letter to UK govt.

Julian Assange may be in real danger of dying in a UK prison, medics from across the world warned in an open letter. He may not even be fit to stand extradition trial, given the years of denial of proper healthcare.

Assange, the founder of the whistleblower site WikiLeaks, is currently in British custody at a top-security Belmarsh jail. In February next year he is to stand trial over an extradition request from the US, where he may be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. In an open letter addressed to British Home Secretary Priti Patel, over 60 medical professionals from across the world voiced their concern over the physical and mental health of the publisher, arguing that he may not only be unfit to stand a trial but even at risk of dying.

“We have real concerns, on the evidence currently available, that Mr Assange could die in prison. The medical situation is thereby urgent. There is no time to lose,” the letter says.

Also on ‘A 1950s show trial’: John Pilger describes ‘disgraceful’ courtroom treatment of Julian Assange by UK judge...

The doctors cite several eyewitness accounts demonstrating deterioration of Assange’s health during his seven-year-long say at the Ecuadoran embassy in London. The Australian-born anti-secrecy activist breached his bail conditions by hiding at the diplomatic mission in 2012 and remained there until his eviction in April this year.

A UN panel of experts concluded that the self-exile amounts to his arbitrary detention by the British authorities, considering the circumstances.

A threat of arrest made it impossible for Assange to get treatment at a proper hospital over that period of time, even as living in confined conditions and increasing isolation took their toll on his health. The medics that did get a chance to examine him at the embassy did so against the background of a “climate of fear and intimidation”, the letter said, which was most likely created deliberately.

If it was deliberate, we as medical doctors condemn such behavior as reckless, dangerous and cruel. That all this has been played out in the heart of London for many years is a source of great sadness and shame to many of us.

The concerns were further fueled by the opinion of Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, who visited Assange in prison in early May, accompanied by two medical experts specializing in assessing victims of torture. He said the team concluded that Assange had symptoms of a person who sustained psychological torture over an extended period of time.

Also on UN torture envoy demands ‘full accountability & compensation’ after Sweden drops rape probe against Assange...

Assange’s latest public appearance during a court hearing last month further demonstrated his ailing health. The man seemed exhausted and confused, struggled to recall his own name and date of birth and complained that he couldn’t think properly.

The signatories called for an urgent expert medical assessment of Assange’s state of health that should be done “in a properly equipped and expertly staffed university teaching hospital,” as opposed to the prison’s hospital ward.

US accusations of Assange filed under the Espionage Act stem from WikiLeaks publishing of classified materials embarrassing to the US government. Supporters see his mistreatment as a major attack on freedom of speech with disastrous consequences for whistleblowers and journalists, who consider exposing wrongdoing by Western governments.

The open letter was signed by medics from the United States, Australia, Britain, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Sri Lanka and Poland.

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Rape Probe Against WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Dropped: Swedish Prosecutor

Stockholm: Swedish prosecutors said Tuesday they have dropped their investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over a 2010 rape allegation, even though they found the plaintiff's claim "credible".

"My assessment is that all investigative measures that can be taken have been taken. But... the evidence is not strong enough to file an indictment," deputy director of public prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson told reporters.

The investigation was launched after a Swedish woman who met Assange at a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm in August 2010 accused the Australian of having unprotected sex with her while she was sleeping. She said she had previously repeatedly refused to have unprotected sex with him.

The statute of limitations in the case was to expire in August 2020.

Assange has always denied the allegation.

"I want to stress that the plaintiff has given a credible and reliable account (of events). Her statement is clear, long and detailed," Persson said in a statement.

"But altogether, my assessment is that the evidence has weakened in such a way that there is no longer reason to continue the investigation."

Assange, 48, has been held at a top-security British prison since April after police dragged him out of the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he had been holed up since 2012 to avoid an extradition order to Sweden.

He was subsequently sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching bail conditions when he took refuge in the embassy.

Swedish authorities closed the rape investigation in 2017, saying it was not possible to proceed as Assange could not be reached. But the case was reopened following his arrest.

In September, prosecutors said they had interviewed seven witnesses over the summer in a bid to move the inquiry forward.

Assange is also fighting a US bid to extradite him from Britain on charges filed under the Espionage Act that could see him given a sentence of up to 175 years in a US prison.

Most of those charges relate to obtaining and disseminating classified information over his website WikiLeaks publishing military documents and diplomatic cables.

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Denied tools for his defense, Assange remains resilient ahead of ‘epic’ extradition battle – Pilger

Julian Assange is in high spirits despite being deprived the materials he needs for his defense, veteran journalist John Pilger has reported, adding that Assange’s upcoming extradition hearing will be a battle for democracy.

Pilger tweeted out a status update after visiting the WikiLeaks co-founder in Belmarsh Prison.

“Denied the tools to prepare his defence against extradition to America, [Assange’s] resilience endures,” he wrote, stating that Assange’s upcoming court hearing will being an “epic fight… the fight of democracy.”

Pilger has been a tireless advocate for Assange, visiting him in prison multiple times and making appearances at rallies demanding the journalist’s release.

Assange will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday as he battles to stop his extradition to the United States.

In the US, Assange is charged with possession and dissemination of classified information. If found guilty, he could receive up to 175 years in prison. The journalist has been in Washington’s crosshairs for more than a decade, after WikiLeaks published a video showing the US military attacking journalists and civilians in Iraq in July 2007.

Assange’s treatment at the hands of UK authorities and other parties involved in his imprisonment was condemned by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer in October. According to Melzer, the WikiLeaks co-founder has been subjected to “psychological torture” and his right to due process has been “systematically violated.”

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