London, Sep 7 (PTI) Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, who faces charges of computer hacking and espionage in the US, on Monday returned to a UK court to fight his extradition to the US.
The 49-year-old Australian national, who has been in Belmarsh Prison for 16 months, is wanted over the publication of classified documents in 2010 and 2011 and faces a possible penalty of 175 years in jail if convicted on being extradited to the US. He appeared before the Old Bailey court in London where the court was informed of his formal re-arrest on a new indictment issued in June, during the coronavirus lockdown, by the US government.
The fresh indictment contains 18 charges, including plotting to hack computers and conspiring to obtain and disclose national defence information.
Wearing a dark suit, tie and white shirt, Assange sat behind a glass security screen at the back of the court and spoke only to say that he did not consent to his extradition.
James Lewis, the barrister acting for the US authorities, accuses Assange’s lawyers of conducting a defence consisting of “an attack upon the President of the United States (which) ignores the institutional competencies of the agencies relevant to this case, the Constitution of the United States and the independence of its courts”.
“Neither mental health problems, nor Asperger syndrome prevented Assange’s solicitation of, and orchestration of, the leaking of materials from the highest levels of government and state agencies, apparently on a global scale,” he said.
Edward Fitzgerald, the barrister representing Assange, asserted that the prosecution was “being pursued for ulterior political motives and not in good faith”.
He said he had not seen his client in person for six months in part due to the pandemic – and he told the court the latest indictment had been made 'at the 11th hour' without warning.
However, a bid to rule out the new charges failed as the judge ruled they must be heard in the context of the extradition request.
Julian Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, who gave birth to their two children while he had sought refuge in the Ecuador embassy in London, went to Downing Street on Monday morning in an attempt to deliver a Reporters Without Borders petition against the extradition.
Meanwhile, crowds of supporters gathered outside the Old Bailey court, including Assange's father John Shipton who said his son was being unfairly targeted.
“Julian has two young children, what concerns me today is the rights of those children,” he said.
Assange is accused of encouraging Chelsea Manning, a US army intelligence analyst, to steal classified documents, which allegedly included assistance to crack a password on US defence department computers.
The documents related to prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, US state department cables and Iraq rules of engagement files.
Assange’s lawyers say a victory for the US government would set a precedent for the prosecution of foreign journalists. PTI AK RUP RUP