Ju­lian will not get US ex­tra­di­tion this year

‘Fight for press free­dom’

Arab Times - - INTERNATIO­NAL -

LONDON, Oct 3, (AP): Fight of his life: As­sange ex­tra­di­tion ver­dict due in 2021 Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange will likely spend the rest of 2020 in­side a Bri­tish prison cell be­fore find­ing out whether he can be sent to the United States to face es­pi­onage charges, the judge in his ex­tra­di­tion hear­ing said Thurs­day.

Af­ter hear­ing nearly four weeks of ev­i­dence at London’s Old Bai­ley court­house, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said she would de­liver her de­ci­sion on whether to grant a U.S. ex­tra­di­tion re­quest for As­sange at 10 a.m. on Jan. 4. As­sange is fight­ing ex­tra­di­tion.

The judge’s rul­ing won’t nec­es­sar­ily end the pro­ceed­ings. Which­ever side loses is ex­pected to ap­peal. There’s also the pos­si­bil­ity of a change in U.S. pol­icy should Joe Bi­den de­feat Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in the Nov. 3 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“Un­less any fur­ther ap­pli­ca­tion for bail is made, and be­tween now and the 4th of Jan­uary, you will re­main in cus­tody for the same rea­sons as have been given to you be­fore,” Baraitser told As­sange, who was sit­ting be­hind a se­cu­rity screen at the back of the hear­ing court­room.

The judge pre­vi­ously de­nied As­sange bail over fears he is a flight risk. As­sange jumped bail in 2012 when he sought asy­lum at the Ecuado­rian Em­bassy in London, where he stayed for seven years be­fore be­ing evicted and ar­rested. He has been in cus­tody at Bel­marsh prison in London since April 2019 and is ex­pected to ap­pear in court via video link ev­ery 28 days be­tween now and the Jan. 4 rul­ing.

U.S. pros­e­cu­tors have in­dicted the 49-year-old As­sange on 17 es­pi­onage charges and one charge of com­puter mis­use over Wik­iLeaks’ pub­li­ca­tion of se­cret Amer­i­can mil­i­tary doc­u­ments a decade ago largely re­lat­ing to the wars in Afghanista­n and Iraq.

Fol­low­ing the ad­journ­ment on Thurs­day, Stella Moris, As­sange’s fi­ancée and the mother of his two young chil­dren, said, “Ju­lian and I would like to thank ev­ery­one for the kind­ness that has been shown over the past few weeks.”

“It’s a fight for Ju­lian’s life, a fight for press free­dom and a fight for the truth,” Moris said out­side the court.

De­fense

Now that lawyers have fin­ished pre­sent­ing ev­i­dence, As­sange’s de­fense team has asked for an­other four weeks to sub­mit its clos­ing ar­gu­ment. That will be fol­lowed two weeks later by the clos­ing ar­gu­ment of the lawyers prose­cut­ing on be­half of the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

The judge has an abun­dance of ev­i­dence to trawl through in a hear­ing that was de­layed by the on­set of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. Ex­cept for an early virus ex­po­sure scare and oc­ca­sional out­bursts from the usu­ally face­masked As­sange, the hear­ing pro­ceeded smoothly.

The charges against As­sange carry a max­i­mum sen­tence of 175 years in prison. Lawyers act­ing on be­half of the U.S. gov­ern­ment say As­sange com­mit­ted se­ri­ous crimes that put peo­ple’s lives in dan­ger, al­le­ga­tions his fi­ancée dis­puted.

“Un­der oath, the pros­e­cu­tion con­cedes that it has no ev­i­dence that a sin­gle per­son has ever come to any phys­i­cal harm be­cause of these pub­li­ca­tions,” Moris said. “Let me re­peat that: there is no ev­i­dence that a sin­gle per­son has ever come to any phys­i­cal harm be­cause of these pub­li­ca­tions.”

As­sange’s de­fense team ar­gued he is en­ti­tled to First Amend­ment pro­tec­tions for the pub­li­ca­tion of leaked doc­u­ments that ex­posed U.S. mil­i­tary wrong­do­ing and that the ex­tra­di­tion re­quest was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

The London court heard from an ar­ray of wit­nesses, who pro­nounced on is­sues of huge im­por­tance and sub­stance, such as the free­dom of the press and gov­ern­mentsanc­tioned tor­ture.

“Ju­lian As­sange’s ac­tions, which have been char­ac­ter­ized as crim­i­nal, are ac­tions that ex­pose power to sun­light,” renowned U.S. lin­guist and scholar Noam Chom­sky said.

Other wit­nesses re­layed more shad­owy - and some­times comic - mat­ters of in­trigue dur­ing his time at Wik­iLeaks and at the Ecuado­rian Em­bassy,

Ac­cord­ing to one wit­ness, As­sange “binge-watched” the sui­cide of the for­mer Bosnian Croat gen­eral, Slo­bo­dan Pral­jak, at a U.N. court three years ago.

De­fense lawyers said As­sange was suf­fer­ing from wide-rang­ing men­tal health is­sues, in­clud­ing sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies, that could be ex­ac­er­bated if he is placed in in­hos­pitable prison con­di­tions in the US.

As­sange

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