ASSANGE impeded from preparing defence

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange has spoken of the difficulties in preparing his defence at a case management hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London today (21/10/2019).

Mr Assange’s defence team said he had not been given access to a computer at all, and was only provided his legal documents last week.

“A superpower has had ten years to prepare … it’s not equitable,” Mr Assange said at the conclusion of today’s hearing.

The WikiLeaks publisher 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.

Acting for Mr Assange, Mark Summers QC told the court that the defence needed three more months to prepare their evidence and was granted a two month extension by District Judge Vanessa Baraitser.

Mr Summers told the court 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.

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

This was the WikiLeaks publisher’s third public appearance since being forcibly expelled from Ecuador’s London embassy on 11 April where he was granted political asylum by Ecuador in 2012 in recognition of the threat of prosecution from the United States.

Ahead of the hearing, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe, Massimo Moratti gave a statement saying that the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States must not go ahead.

“The British authorities must acknowledge the real risks of serious human rights violations Julian Assange would face if sent to the USA and reject the extradition request,” Mr Moratti said.

“The UK must comply with the commitment it’s already made that he would not be sent anywhere he could face torture or other ill-treatment.”

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

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 stating concerns over the extraterritorial nature of the charges.

Australian barrister and adviser to the Australian Assange Campaign, Mr Greg Barns said that Mr Assange would be subjected to a “grossly unfair trial process” if he is extradited to 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,” he said.

“The Australian Government should be concerned that charging 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”.

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.

The full extradition hearing, which is set to last at least five days, will be held in front of District Judge Vanessa Baraitser at Woolwich Magistrates’ Court in February 2020.

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