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US ‘breached due process’ in spying operation against Julian Assange’s lawyers

Surveillance footage of Julian Assange’s meetings with lawyers and doctors in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was an “abuse of process”

The US breached WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s right to defence by recording confidential meetings with his solicitors and lawyers in the Ecuadorian Embassy, it was claimed today.

Jennifer Robinson, legal counsel for Assange, said a surveillance operation against him in the Ecuadorian Embassy was in breach of legal privilege and an abuse of process. 

A company hired to provide security at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London is accused of recording Assange’s meetings – including legally privileged meetings and meetings with doctors – which were reported back to the US.

The surveillance operation, allegedly carried out by Spanish security company UC Global, is under investigation in Spain.

It is expected to be raised in a hearing at Woolwich Crown Court next week, when the US presents its case for extraditing Assange to the US to face up to 170 years in jail.

The US has charged Assange with 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. 

The charges follow WikiLeaks’ publication of Afghanistan and Iraq military and diplomatic cables in 2010 and 2011.

Fair trial in doubt

Speaking ahead of the hearing at Woolwich Crown Court, Joseph Farrell, a WikiLeaks spokesman, said the surveillance operation against Assange and his lawyers raised questions about whether Assange would receive a fair trial.

“You had a security company working for the Ecuadorian Embassy that was recording all of his meetings, including his meetings with his doctors and his lawyers, including strategic legal discussions, so that completely destroys any element of client/attorney privilege,” he said.

“You had a security company working for the Ecuadorian Embassy that was recording all of his meetings, including his meetings with doctors and lawyers, so that completely destroys any element of client/attorney privilege”
Joseph Farrell, WikiLeaks

Farrell said surveillance footage recorded Assange being visited by doctors and other medical professionals. 

He said the breach of medical confidentiality had parallels with the CIA’s attempts to seize medical records of the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked confidential papers about the Vietnam War in 1971.

“The CIA broke into his psychiatrist’s office and stole all his medical notes – that was what brought that entire case down,” he said.

The US has accused Assange of a hacking charge after WikiLeaks obtained hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic papers from Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst in the US Army.

WikiLeaks editor in chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said there was no basis for the charge. “There is no need to worry about a hacking allegation as there simply was no hacking,” he said.

Support from Australian MPs

Australian MPs today added to calls for the UK to block Assange’s extradition to the US.

Andrew Wilkie, an independent MP, said there was a diverse range of political figures on both the right and the left who opposed the extradition of Assange.

“This precedent means that anyone publishing classified US information about the United States could face prosecution and extradition”
Jennifer Robinson, legal counsel for Julian Assange

George Christensen, MP for the Liberal National Party, said he was “a fan of Trump, a big fan of Bojo [prime minster Boris Johnson], but a bigger fan of free press and democracy”.

Christensen said Assange is an “Aussie”, and that he may be a rat bag, but “he is our rat bag”.

Prison taking its toll

Assange has been held in HMP Belmarsh since 11 April last year.

Some 117 physicians and psychologists from 18 nations published a letter in The Lancet in February, calling for an end to the “psychological torture” and neglect of Assange.

Hrafnsson said he visited Assange 10 days ago, and that his health had improved, but to an “insufficient” degree.

Two weeks ago, Assange was moved into more humane conditions “thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public and amazingly other inmates”, he said.

Robinson said the case set a terrifying precedent for journalists.

“This precedent means that anyone publishing classified US information about the United States could face prosecution and extradition to the United States,” she said.

She said Assange faced a long legal process – potentially years. “His health has deteriorated significantly since 2010,” she said.

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