By Jake Lynch (at Westminster Magistrates Court)
Julian Assange today complained to a court that his treatment in his extradition case is “not equitable”, and that he has been denied access to his US lawyer while on remand in Belmarsh prison in southeast London. He accused the United States of “stealing legal documents” and “stealing my children’s DNA”.
The WikiLeaks founder attended Westminster Magistrates Court in person. Speaking to the presiding magistrate, Vanessa Baraitser, from behind a screen, he said he had “not really” understood what had happened in court. “The super-power has had ten years to work on this, with unlimited resources”, he said.
Assange’s legal team won a two-month extension to submit further “expert and factual evidence”, to December 18th. This was necessary, Mark Summers QC, for Assange, told the court, because of “the political nature of the charges” he faces.
The United States requested his extradition on espionage charges arising from WikiLeaks’ publication of the Afghan and Iraq war logs, and thousands of diplomatic cables from the State Department, leaked by whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. He “deliberately published’ the names of informants, James Lewis QC, for the Crown, told the court, “knowing that this risked their torture or death”. He faces a maximum sentence, if convicted of 175 years in a federal prison.
Wearing a dark blue suit and an open-necked white shirt, with his hair swept back, Assange leaned forward as he listened to exchanges. Before the hearing got underway, he greeted supporters in the packed public gallery by raising his left fist in salute.
Assange was caught up, Mr Summers said, in “a drive to escalate the existing war on whistle-blowers to publishers and journalists”. He listed three issues he said showed the political nature of the charges – one of the grounds on which an extradition request can be turned down.
One was “the pressure brought to bear on Ecuador”, which withdrew political asylum at its London embassy, originally granted to Assange in 2011. There was “the attempt to force evidence out of Chelsea Manning”, Mr Summers continued, as well as a case before the Spanish court, in which UC Global, a security company employed at the embassy, is accused of “eavesdropping on privileged discussions between Mr Assange and his lawyers” and sending information about them to the US Central Intelligence Agency.
The necessity of extending the time to submit defence evidence was further supported, Mr Summers said, by “the enormity of the restrictions being placed upon Mr Assange by the UK authorities - without access even to a computer”, whilst held in Belmarsh.
Granting the extension, Ms Baraitser also ruled that the extradition hearing itself, which remains scheduled for late February and is likely to last several days, should take place at nearby Belmarsh Magistrates Court, to facilitate attendance by Assange. He will appear in court again, by video link from the prison, on November 18th.
ABOUT JAKE LYNCH
Jake Lynch is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University. Before taking up an academic post, he enjoyed a 20-year career in professional journalism, with spells as a Political Correspondent at Westminster, for Sky News; the Sydney Correspondent for The Independent, and culminating in a role as an on-air presenter for BBC World television news. He then joined the University of Sydney as Director of its Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. He is the most published and most cited author in the field of Peace Journalism. He was awarded the 2017 Luxembourg Peace Prize, by the Schengen Peace Foundation. Jake’s debut novel, Blood on the Stone, an historical mystery thriller set in early modern England, is published by Unbound Books.