ASSANGE BID TO DELAY EXTRADITION HEARING DENIED
LONDON — A British judge on Monday rejected a request by lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to delay his extradition hearing until next year to give his lawyers more time to respond to U.S. allegations that he conspired with hackers to obtain classified information.
The adjournment request came on the first day of a London court hearing where Assange is fighting American prosecutors’ attempt to send him to the U.S. to stand trial on spying charges.
U.S. prosecutors have indicted the 49-yearold Australian on 18 espionage and computer misuse charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret U.S. military documents a decade ago. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Assange’s lawyers say the prosecution is a politically motivated abuse of power that will stifle press freedom and put journalists around the world at risk.
The U.S. Justice Department expanded its case against Assange in a new indictment announced in June, though it did not introduce new charges. But Assange attorney Mark Summers said it was “an impossible task” for the legal team to deal with the new allegations in time for Monday’s court hearing, especially since they had only “limited access” to the imprisoned Assange.
He said District Judge Vanessa Baraitser should excise the new American claims, which he said were sprung on the defense “out of the blue.”
The judge rejected the request, saying the defense had declined an earlier opportunity in August to postpone the hearing. The defense then asked for the case to be adjourned until January. Baraitser refused, saying Assange’s lawyers had “ample time” before Monday to express their concerns.
The case has already been held up for months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Assange, who has spent 16 months in a British prison, sat in the dock at the Old Bailey criminal court and formally refused the U.S. extradition demand. Assange, who lawyers say has suffered physical and mental ill health because of his ordeal, wore a suit and tie and spoke clearly to confirm his name and date of birth.
Several dozen supporters, including fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, gathered outside the courthouse, chanting, banging drums and calling his prosecution a threat to press freedom.
“Julian Assange is the trigger, he is shining the light on all the corruption in the world,” Westwood said.
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and members of the media gather as a van believed to be carrying Assange leaves after a court hearing Monday in London.