The extradition hearing on Monday, October 21 in the case of Julian Assange requires me to write again to urge the UK refuse the request for extradition from the United States. The hearing showed a court set on rushing to extradition without adequate due process for Assange, ignoring serious health issues Assange is clearly facing that are making defending himself impossible. At his hearing Monday, Assange appeared to be visibly struggling, barely able to state his own name when asked to confirm his identity by the court.
I wrote about Julian Assange’s case on April 11, describing his prosecution under the Espionage Act as a threat to the freedom of all the press and opposing his extradition to the secret espionage court in the Eastern District of Virginia that conducts it’s affairs behind doors closed to the press and public oversight where he will never receive a fair trial.
At this week’s hearing the judge refused a request from Assange’s attorney for a three month delay of the extradition hearing scheduled for February 2020. His attorney, Mark Summers, explained to the court that Assange’s legal team needed more time to gather evidence, explaining the challenges of this complex and unique case which would test the limits of most lawyers. Summers also told of the difficulty of communicating with Assange, who doesn’t have a computer in jail.
Assange added to these points saying “I don’t understand how this is equitable. I can’t research anything, I can’t access any of my writing. It’s very difficult where I am.” The same judge also refused bail at an earlier hearing.
When the judge asked Assange his name and date of birth, Assange mumbled and stuttered for several seconds as he gave his name and date of birth. When “the judge asked him at the end of the hearing if he knew what was happening, he replied ‘not exactly’’ and complained about the conditions in jail, saying he was unable to ‘think properly.’” People in court described Assange as holding back tears.
Summers told the court that the US government had been listening to conversations between Assange and lawyers while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy in London from 2012 to 2019. The judge is doing nothing about this violation of the attorney-client privilege.
There were Assange supporters outside the courthouse when he came by van and when he left. Inside the court was filled with media and supporters. The court is moving to minimize public knowledge about the case by purposely holding its hearings in small courtrooms to limit access.
Judge Baraitser declared that next year’s week-long extradition hearing would take place at Woolwich Magistrates Court near Belmarsh Prison. The magistrate’s court has a “public gallery” of just three seats. Holding this hearing, which is of great importance to freedom of the press, in this tiny venue will result in a small number of carefully selected media being able to report on the case and hiding the gross violations of due process in these proceedings. The court action is designed to manipulate the media and deny the public access to information in a highly significant case that will define freedom of the press for the 21st Century. If the prosecution is successful, this will undermine the public’s right to know what its government is up to.
It is time to end this farce of a kangaroo court proceeding. Assange, the publisher and editor of Wikileaks, should never be prosecuted by the United States for publishing information a US Court has already ruled he was clearly entitled to publish. And the United Kingdom should honor it’s own strictures against sending anyone into certain risk of the death penalty, as applies under US espionage law, by justly denying his extradition to the US on trumped up charges. The Obama administration refused to act those charges on because of the chilling effect doing so would clearly have on all American’s press freedoms. Ending the prosecution of Assange for exercising his freedom of the press rights is the only proper course of action.