LONDON (Reuters) – Julian Assange appeared before a British court on Monday to fight an extradition request from the United States which wants to put the 48-year-old on trial for hacking government computers and violating an espionage law.
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Below are the main developments and quotes from the hearing.
* Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, said conversations between Assange and his lawyers in the Ecuadorean embassy were secretly monitored by U.S. spies who had information passed to them by a private security company which was bugging the building.
Fitzgerald also told the court that former Republican U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher had met with Assange in July 2017 and discussed obtaining a pardon for him from President Trump in return for him disclosing who leaked Democratic Party emails ahead of the 2016 election. Last week, Rohrabacher said he never spoke to Trump about Assange and Trump likewise denied he authorized any meeting.
“We say ‘well, he would, wouldn’t he?,” Fitzgerald said.
* Fitzgerald argued that his client should not be extradited to the United States as he would not get a fair trial and would be a suicide risk.
Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, said extradition would expose Assange to inhumane and degrading treatment by a disproportionate sentence and prison conditions.
Fitzgerald said the extradition request was motivated by politics rather than any genuine crimes. He said it would be unjust and oppressive to extradite him because of his mental state and risk of suicide.
He said the U.S. attitude to Assange had changed when U.S. President Trump came to power. Fitzgerald said Trump wanted to make an example of Assange.
Fitzgerald said that in 2013 the U.S. government under former President Barack Obama has decided that Assange should not face any action.
* Assange said he could not hear or concentrate because of the noise outside court. He said he was “very appreciative of the public support” but he was unable to hear properly.
* A woman spilled a trolley of red paint outside court and rolled in it before being arrested.
* The United States’ lawyer, James Lewis, told the court that Assange should be extradited to stand trial for crimes including hacking but also for disseminating unredacted material which had put at risk the lives of informants, journalists, dissidents and others in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
Lewis sought to make clear that Assange was not wanted because he had embarrassed the United States but because he had broken the law and put lives at risk.
“What Mr Assange seems to defend by freedom of speech is not the publication of the classified materials but the publication of the names of the sources, the names of people who had put themselves at risk to assist the United States and its allies,” Lewis said.
“He was not charged with the disclosure of embarrassing or awkward information the government would rather not have disclosed.”
Hundreds of people across the world had to be warned after the WikiLeaks disclosures and some had to be relocated from their countries, Lewis said.
“Some sources identified by WikiLeaks … subsequently disappeared,” he said, although he added U.S. authorities could not prove that was a result of WikiLeaks’ action.
* Chanting from Assange supporters outside could be heard in the court. Judge Vanessa Baraitser, speaking above chanting of “free free Julian Assange” from his supporters outside, cautioned that anyone causing a disturbance would be removed. She said the chanting would not help Assange’s case.
* Assange appeared in a grey-blue suit. He was cleanly shaven. He acknowledged supporters in the public gallery.
* Assange supporters gathered outside the court. Placards read “Free Assange”, “Don’t extradite Assange” and “Freedom for Julian Assange.” Some were in tents. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood wore a sign on her head reading “Angel”. Assange’s father John Shipton and Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton spoke to the media outside the court.
Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew MacAskill