LONDON (Reuters) – Julian Assange appeared before a British court for a third day on Wednesday 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.
A supporter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a sign outside Woolwich Crown Court, ahead of a hearing to decide whether Assange should be extradited to the United States, in London, Britain February 25, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
The Wikileaks founder is being sought by the United States on 18 counts of hacking U.S. government computers and an espionage offense, having allegedly conspired with Chelsea Manning, then a U.S. soldier known as Bradley Manning, to leak hundreds of thousands of secret documents by WikiLeaks almost a decade ago.
Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said his client should not be extradited because the case was political and he was not violent.
Below are the other main developments and quotes from the hearing.
* At one point, Judge Vanessa Baraitser asked whether Assange’s lawyers needed to check on him because his eyes were closed.
Assange said he could not hear in the dock and was unable to instruct his legal team. Asking to sit closer to them, he complained: “I am as much a participant in these proceedings as I am at Wimbledon,” referring to the crowd at the British tennis tournament.
Assange said his legal team has been spied on and therefore he could not give comments to them in confidence.
In response, the judge said: “I can’t make an exception in your case”.
However, after his lawyers said it was unfair Assange could not sit with his legal team, and the lawyer for the U.S. government also said he would be largely supportive of the move, the judge said she would hear an application for Assange to sit with his lawyers on Thursday morning.
“There are two microphones in here. There are a number of unnamed embassy officials here,” Assange said.
* Judge Baraitser said earlier they had become aware that someone has taken a photograph in the courtroom this week. She said that if anyone is found taking or trying to take a photo they will be considered in contempt of court and will be dealt with accordingly.
“I want to make it absolutely clear that it is a criminal offence to attempt to take a photograph … in any court,” she added.
* Fitzgerald said the case against his client was political and that extradition for political offences was unlawful under the 2003 Anglo-U.S. extradition treaty.
“It is an essential protection, which the U.S. puts in every single one of its extradition treaties,” Fitzgerald told the court. He said it was also illegal under the European Court of Human Rights and UK domestic law.
He added it was a “virtually universal” legal principle that non-violent people should not be extradited for political offences. “If it is not a terrorist case, a violent offence, you should not be extradited for a political offence,” he said
Fitzgerald added that the Wikileaks founder was on some medication, so may need regular breaks.
* Fitzgerald said Assange should not be extradited because his work is similar to that of many non-governmental organizations. He said for example a non-governmental organization may reveal how many people China execute each year. “Extradition may be sought by China or Russia based on disclosures that are uncomfortable or threatening,” he said.
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; editing by Stephen Addison