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A judge will decide in January 2021 if WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited to the US to face espionage and computer hacking charges.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser said today that she would issue a decision on whether to extradite Assange, who for now will remain in custody in Belmarsh Prison, on 4 January next year.
The 49-year-old faces up to 175 years in prison following allegations by the US government that he played a role in “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the US”.
He has been indicted on 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
The WikiLeaks founder has been fighting extradition since April 2019, when Ecuador revoked his asylum status and he was arrested after he was carried out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Prosecution is ‘political’
His fiancée Stella Moris said today that the case was a fight for Julian’s life, a fight for press freedom and a fight for truth.
“This case is already chilling press freedom. It is a frontal assault on journalism, on the public’s right to know and our ability to hold governments, domestic and foreign, to account.”
Assange’s defence team argues that the US has brought the prosecution for political reasons, and argues that the case will have serious ramifications for press freedom if it is allowed to go ahead.
The WikiLeaks founder is being extradited for trial in the US over WikiLeaks’ publication of tens of thousands of classified documents leaked by former US soldier Chelsea Manning in 2010.
The US government alleges that Assange purposely published thousands of documents containing the unredacted names of innocent people who risk their lives to provide information to the US and its allies.
Assange claims that the extradition is politically motivated and was instigated by the Donald Trump regime.
The Barack Obama administration had previously concluded that it could not prosecute WikiLeaks without also prosecuting journalists and newspapers that receive and publish classified documents, defence witnesses argued.
Most important revelations of criminal state behaviour
The court heard from multiple witnesses, including lawyers, journalists and US constitutional experts over the course of a four-week hearing at the Old Bailey.
Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers which changed the course of the Vietnam war in the 1970s, told the court that WikiLeaks’ disclosures of the Chelsea Manning documents were among the most important revelations of criminal state behaviour in US history.
Other witnesses said WikiLeaks publications had alerted the world to civilian deaths in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to the extraordinary rendition and torture of inmates in Guantanamo Bay detention centre, in the face of official denials.
A forensic computer expert called into question US allegations that Assange made an agreement with Chelsea Manning to decrypt a password hash that would allow her to access documents anonymously.
But Assange faces further claims, included in a superseding indictment, that he conspired to encourage hackers to obtain classified government documents in speeches at conferences and by publishing a list of “most wanted leaks”.
Assange’s mental health and risk of suicide is one of the major factors that will determine whether the WikiLeaks founder can be extradited to the US.
In two precedent-setting cases, the UK refused the extradition of Gary McKinnon in 2012 and Lauri Love in 2018 to face hacking charges in the US on the grounds that they had Asperger syndrome and depression – conditions that would put them at risk of suicide.
The court heard from medical health experts that Assange had been diagnosed with physical and mental health conditions, including Asperger syndrome.
Michael Kopelman, head of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London, said Assange had autism, suffered bouts of depression and has had auditory hallucinations. “As far as a psychiatrist can say, the risk of suicide should extradition happen is very high,” he said.
The claims were disputed by medical experts for the prosecution who argued that Assange had only moderate depression, did not exhibit signs of Asperger syndrome and that his risk of suicide could be managed.
Assange would be held in supermax prison
If the extradition goes ahead, Assange would be held under special administrative measures (SAMs) – equivalent to solitary confinement – at the Truesdale Adult Detention Centre in Alexandria, Virginia, as he awaited trial.
He would be detained in a cell the size of a parking space in the prison’s “X block” for 22 to 23 hours a day without contact from other inmates, Yancey Ellis, former public defender, told the court.
If convicted, Assange would be held at a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, alongside convicted terrorist Abu Hamza, where he would be confined to a cell for 23 to 24 hours a day to protect national security.
Assange’s defence lawyers brought examples of apparent political influence in Assange’s prosecution during the 18-day hearing.
US congressman Dana Rorabacher visited Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2017, purporting to offer a presidential pardon from Trump.
He asked Assange to help resolve ongoing speculation about Russian involvement in leaks from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) published by WikiLeaks which benefited the Trump campaign.
In another example, US journalist and Trump supporter Cassandra Fairbanks claimed she had been told by a Republican party supporter close to the president about plans for Assange’s arrest months before it happened.
Legal meetings put under surveillance
In evidence given on the final day of the hearing, Assange’s solicitor Gareth Peirce said in written submissions that Assange’s legally privileged documents had been seized from the embassy.
She said that, with the involvement of a member of the Ecuadorian intelligence service, two diplomatic pouches containing USB sticks had been taken in a diplomatic bag to Ecuador and sent to the US.
Peirce claimed that three legally privileged meetings with Assange in 2017 and 2018 at the Ecuadorian Embassy had been subject to surveillance without her knowledge.
Photographs were also taken of Assange’s Spanish lawyer Aitor Martinez’s legal file when he left the room during a meeting with his client.
Peirce said that there was prevailing anxiety and fear that legal meetings were being monitored, which had a chilling effect on the ability of lawyers to prepare a defence.
The court heard that an investigation by a Spanish court into alleged surveillance at the embassy conducted by security company UC Global could have an impact on the case.
Judge Baraitser refused to admit a witness statement from Peirce addressing new allegations contained in the second indictment served in July.
The defence had argued that they should be able to address “fresh and different” allegations made in the indictment, which had become apparent just before the hearing.
Assange’s fiancée, speaking after the hearing, said that most of the charges against Assange relate to him receiving and possessing government documents.
“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,” she said.
Assange fathered two children with Moris during his stay at the embassy. “Our children need their father,” she said.
Assange will appear in Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 20 October for an administrative hearing.
Read more about Julian Assange’s September extradition hearing at the Old Bailey
- Lawyers for Julian Assange say the US has introduced an 11th hour indictment against the WikiLeaks founder that provides additional grounds for his extradition.
- On the second day of his extradition hearing at the Old Bailey, judge informs the WikiLeaks founder he could be removed and potentially banned from court for interrupting witnesses.
- US journalism historian and investigative journalist Mark Feldstein tells a UK court that use of the Espionage Act against Assange will have wide implications for the press.
- Trevor Timm, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, tells a court that if the US prosecutes Julian Assange, every reporter who receives a secret document will be criminalised.
- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be held under special administrative measures if extradited to the US, said Eric Lewis, a US legal expert, effectively placing him in solitary confinement.
- MEPs and NGOs say they have been denied access to observe extradition proceedings against WikiLeaks founder in Central Criminal Court.
- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange held back 15,000 documents from publication at the request of the US government, a court heard today.
- Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked highly classified documents that changed the course of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, says WikiLeaks exposed a serious pattern of US war crimes.
- WikiLeaks and its media partners used software developed by an independent non-government organisation (NGO) to redact information that could identify individuals from 400,000 classified documents on the Iraq war, a court heard today.
- New Zealand investigative journalist and author Nicky Hager said that WikiLeaks’ publication of a video showing a US helicopter firing on civilians, along with the publication of secret war logs, ‘electrified’ the world to civilian deaths.
- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was offered a “win-win” deal that would allow him “to get on with his life” and benefit US president Donald Trump.
- Khalid El-Masri said that disclosures by WikiLeaks showed that the US had intervened in a German judicial investigation into his torture and kidnapping by the CIA.
- Trump supporter Cassandra Fairbanks was given advanced details of US plans to oust Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy and to arrest him for over documents leaked by former soldier Chelsea Manning.
- WikiLeaks published unredacted cables after password was disclosed in book by Guardian journalist David Leigh.
- Julian Assange is on the autistic spectrum and has a history of depression that would put him at risk of suicide if he is extradited to a US prison.
- Nigel Blackwood, NHS consultant psychiatrist, told the Old Bailey court that although WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had ‘moderate depression’ and autistic traits it was ‘not unjust’ extradite him.
- Forensic expert questions US claims that Julian Assange conspired to crack military password.
- WikiLeaks founder would be held in a cell the size of a parking space for 22 or 23 hours a day without contact with other inmates before trial.
- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would be held alongside convicted terrorist Abu Hamza in a supermax federal prison in Colorado, isolated from other prisoners, if he is extradited to the US, Old Bailey told.
- Two former employees of UC Global, which provides security services to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, claim the company shared surveillance footage with the US of the WikiLeaks founder meeting with lawyers and other visitors.
- WikiLeaks disclosures led to ‘revelations of extraordinary journalistic importance’ about detention in Guantamo Bay and civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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