Julian Assange tells court he cannot prepare his defence

  • WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange makes his third public appearance since his arrest, tells court he is not able to properly prepare his defence case
  • Political opposition to Assange’s extradition is growing in Europe and Australia
  • Amnesty tells the UK that extraditing Assange would violate international human rights obligations
  • The full hearing will take place at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in front of District Judge Baraitser

A full extradition hearing will be held at Belmarsh Magistrates’
Court in February 2020 for WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. Mr
Assange is facing extradition from the UK to the US in an unprecedented
Espionage Act prosecution for engaging in journalistic activity. If
convicted, he faces 175 years imprisonment. 

The hearing, which is set to last at least five days, was scheduled in a case management hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court this morning. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser will hear the case in Spring 2020.

A further case management hearing has been scheduled for 19 December at Westminster Magistates’ Court.

Julian Assange attended this morning’s hearing in person, in only his
third public appearance since being forcibly expelled from Ecuador’s
London embassy on 11 April. He had been granted political asylum by
Ecuador in 2012, in recognition of the threat of prosecution from the
United States.

Mark Summers QC, acting for Assange, told the court that the defence
needed three more months to prepare their evidence but District Judge Baraitser refused to move the date of the main extradition hearing.

At the conclusion of today’s hearing, Assange told the court about the
difficulties he was experiencing in being able to prepare his case.

“I don’t understand how this is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t access my writings. It’s very difficult where I am to do anything but these people have unlimited resources..”

Heike Hänsel, a member of the German Bundestag, was present in court
today to observe proceedings. She said:

“It is shameful for Europe to witness this courageous investigative
journalist in a courtroom in London. 

“Instead of bowing to US interests, the British Government and the EU
must both reject this extraterritorial political persecution. 

“Today it is Julian Assange, and tomorrow it may well be any other
journalist who has published truthful information in the public
interest that does not agree with the US government’s narrative.”

Concerns about Assange’s health and well-being have intensified in
recent weeks, both in Europe and his home country of Australia. 

Australian politicians from across the political spectrum, among them former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and former Foreign Minister
Bob Carr, have publicly expressed their opposition to the extradition proceedings due to concerns over the extraterritorial nature of the charges.

Greg Barns, Adviser to the Australian Assange Campaign said “This Australian citizen is to be subjected to a grossly unfair trial process in the US and an effective death penalty of 175 years imprisonment.  No Prime Minister of Australia, or any politician for that matter should allow an Australian citizen to be faced with that dire predicament.

“The Australian Government should be concerned that charging of Julian
Assange with offences concerning publication in circumstances where he
was not in the US, represents a direct threat to any Australian journalist who publishes material that embarrasses the US”. 

Clare Daly, the Member of the European Parliament for Dublin, said 

“Political leaders and civil society now have a timetable for the
crucial work that we must do to block the extradition of Julian
Assange. 

“The deterioration of Julian’s health means that this is now not just a
political trial but an urgent human rights issue.

“Support for Julian is growing across Europe and we will be redoubling
our efforts in the weeks and months ahead.”

This morning, Amnesty International reiterated its opposition to Julian
Assange’s extradition to the United States. Massimo Moratti, Amnesty
International’s Deputy Director for Europe, said:

“The UK must abide by its obligation under international human rights
law that forbids the transfer of individuals to another country where
they would face serious human rights violations. Were Julian Assange to
be extradited or subjected to any other transfer to the USA, Britain
would be in breach of these obligations.”

Member of the German Bundestag Andrej Hunko, who came to Westminster Magistrates’ Court to observe Assange’s last hearing, said:

“An extradition of Julian Assange would set a very dangerous precedent.
In the USA, the criminal charges against him represent an historical
assault on First Amendment rights. In Europe, allowing this extra-
territorial prosecution on European soil for the publication of proof
of US war crimes would mean a serious risk for all journalists and
publishers and for the freedom of the press in general.”

In his statements to court, Mark Summers QC indicated that the
political nature of the charges would be a major line of argument in
Julian Assange’s defence, citing the pressure put on Ecuador, the
reimprisonment of Chelsea Manning and the US surveillance of legally
privileged materials and consultations in the Ecuadorian embassy.

He told the court that:

“This prosecution is designed to escalate the existing war on
whistleblowers to include investigative journalists and publishers.”

Julian Assange has been charged in the Eastern District of Virginia with 17 counts under the 1917 Espionage Act, all related to WikiLeaks publications of 2010-11. He also faces a further conspiracy charge related to journalist-source communications. EDVA is a judicial district located in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. 

Assange was represented at this hearing by Mark Summers QC of Matrix
Chambers, instructed by Birnberg Peirce.