Julian Assange’s extradition hearing will go ahead in February after a judge rejected pleas on Monday to allow more time to investigate allegations that the US state “intruded” into conversations between the WikiLeaks founder and his lawyers in the Ecuadoran embassy.
Mark Summers QC, acting for Mr Assange, told Westminster magistrates' court that the February hearing should be pushed back to allow the legal team more time to investigate claims the US had been "actively engaged in intruding" into conversations between Mr Assange and lawyers while he was staying in the Ecuadorian embassy in London from 2012 to 2019.
Mr Summers said there were other alleged intrusions, which included “hooded men breaking into offices”. He did not give further details.
Mr Summers told the court there was a criminal case in the Spanish courts involving the purported Spanish contractors used by the US. He also claimed there “had been plans to kidnap and harm” Mr Assange.
He argued the current US administration had “reinvigorated” the prosecution of Mr Assange as part of a “concerted and avowed war on whistleblowers” and as a warning to journalists and publishers.
Mr Assange faces 18 criminal charges in the US following the leak of thousands of classified documents relating to US military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The indictment includes one count of computer hacking from the US following the leak of thousands of classified documents in 2010 relating to US military activity in Iraq as well as 17 charges of violating the Espionage Act. Mr Assange faces 175 years in prison if convicted.
District judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the call for more time and said Mr Assange's extradition hearing would go ahead as planned next February at Belmarsh magistrates' court in east London.
Mr Assange, who appeared in court for the first time in person since May, appeared frail and disorientated as he stood in the dock and struggled to confirm his name and date of birth.
Wearing a blue sweater, white shirt and blue jacket with glasses pushed up on his head, a cleanshaven Mr Assange spoke haltingly and slowly as he was asked whether he had understood what had happened in the hearing and replied: “Not really.”
“I can’t research anything, I can’t access any of my writing . . .These people have unlimited resources . . . I am in fear of my life . . . This is not equitable,” he said.
He had appeared at Westminster magistrates’ court on Monday in person after being transported from Belmarsh prison where he is being held ahead of the extradition hearing. He remains in prison after he completed a separate 50-week sentence for skipping bail and fleeing to the Ecuadoran embassy.
A large crowd of his supporters gathered at court on Monday, including former London mayor Ken Livingstone.
Sweden announced earlier this year that it was reopening its investigation into a rape allegation against Mr Assange. Swedish prosecutors said the change in circumstances following Mr Assange's arrest in Britain in April meant they should restart the investigation into the 2010 assault claim. No charges have been brought yet. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019