By Judith Mora
London, Sep 7 (efe-epa).- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was back in London’s Old Bailey court Monday for his United States extradition case, which has resumed following a coronavirus-triggered hiatus.
Assange, who has been held for months at Belmarsh Prison in the British capital, affirmed his identity and said he does not consent to extradition to the US, where he faces 18 charges of violating espionage laws and conspiring to hack a military computer and could be sentenced to up to 175 years behind bars.
At the start of an evidentiary hearing in his extradition case – postponed in February due to the pandemic – District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the defense’s request to have the fresh indictment presented by the US Justice Department in June excluded from the case.
She also rejected defense attorney Mark Summers’ request for an adjournment until January to allow time to assess the expanded case. Summers argued that Assange’s defense team had not been given sufficient time to respond to the new indictment.
The indictment announced in June maintained the 18 charges filed in April 2019 but broadened the scope of the conspiracy allegations.
Assange now stands accused of conspiring not only with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010, but also with other people between 2007 and 2015, to obtain classified information for the benefit of WikiLeaks.
US Justice Department attorney Joel Smith argued that Assange conspired with hackers such as Teenager, Laurelai, Sabu and Jeremy Hammond and sought to recruit others at hacking conferences.
But Assange’s defense team questioned the US prosecutors’ intentions, noting that some of these hackers had been convicted years ago in the United Kingdom and the US and therefore Washington could have leveled those accusations much earlier.
It also said the statute of limitations on some of those charges may have expired.
The defense on Monday called its first witness, University of Maryland journalism historian Mark Feldstein, who said via video link that the charges against the 49-year-old Australian are politically motivated.
“No matter how unorthodox, Assange is a publisher and is protected by the free-speech and free-press clauses of the American constitution,” Feldstein said. “He has published truthful information in the public interest that exposed illegal and unethical actions by the US government.”
The US is seeking to prosecute Assange on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act and one charge of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
WikiLeaks’ revelations exposed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, files on illegal detentions at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and diplomatic cables revealing human rights abuses around the world.
While Assange was following the proceedings from the dock inside Old Bailey’s Court 10, a colorful and boisterous group of his supporters demonstrated on the street to demand his release from custody.
Among those in the group was Assange’s father, John Shipton; and the defendant’s former lawyer and now partner, Stella Moris, who has been under intense media scrutiny since revealing in April that the couple has two children that were conceived during the WikiLeaks founder’s seven-year stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (before his asylum was revoked last year). EFE-EPA