Julian Assange tells court his work has ‘protected many people’

WikiLeaks founder says he will fight extradition to US where he is wanted on computer hacking charge

Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson described Julian Assange's conditions in prison as "appalling" as he spoke to journalists outside Westminster Magistrates Court after a preliminary extradition hearing. Video: Reuters

 

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, told a London court on Thursday that he would fight extradition to the US just a day after he was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for jumping bail in 2012 and taking refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy for almost seven years.

Assange appeared at Westminster magistrates’ court via prison video link from Belmarsh prison in the first hearing connected to his US extradition.

He is wanted in the US on a computer hacking charge after the leaking of thousands of classified documents relating in 2010 relating to military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan. The offence carries a maximum sentence of five years. The US charges have provoked a strong political reaction in the UK where Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for the government to block Assange’s extradition.

On Thursday District Judge Michael Snow asked Assange, who was wearing trainers, jeans, a beige T-shirt and a black jacket, whether he formally consented to be extradited to the US to face the charges. Assange declined and replied: “I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism which has won many awards and protected many people.”

Prosecutor Ben Brandon, representing the US government, said the alleged offence was committed between January and May 2010 and related to one of “the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the US”.

He said that the classified documents included 90,000 war-related significant activity reports relating to Afghanistan as well as 400,000 reports relating to military activity in Iraq, 800 detainee reports relating to Guantánamo Bay and 250,000 US diplomatic cables.

He told the court the US was alleging that Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning, a defence analyst, after she downloaded the classified documents and provided them to WikiLeaks, which was run by Assange. The US had evidence of chatroom communication between Assange and Manning in which Assange agreed to help Manning crack a computer password to download the records, the court heard.

The 15-minute extradition hearing was adjourned until May 30th and Judge Snow said Assange’s full extradition hearing could take “many months” to be heard. The courtroom was packed with journalists and a number of his supporters who also staged demonstrations outside the court.

On Wednesday Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail in 2012 over his imminent extradition to Sweden where investigators wanted to question him over allegations of rape and sexual assault. Assange took refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy and was arrested almost seven years later on April 10 after his diplomatic status was revoked by Ecuador. He was sentenced on Wednesday at Southwark crown court for breaching his bail.

There is currently no extradition request from Sweden for Assange. However Swedish investigators have until 2020 to reactivate the investigation, which was dropped in 2017, and bring any charges against Assange. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019