Crime & Justice

UK judge to rule Jan. 4 on US request to extradite Assange

London, Oct 1 (efe-epa).- British Judge Vanessa Baraitser said Thursday that her decision on the US request for the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges will come on Jan. 4, 2021.

The 49-year-old Australian citizen faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted in the United States on all 18 counts of espionage and cyber-crime, accusations the defense say are politically motivated.

“Unless any further application for bail is made, and between now and the 4th of January, you will remain in custody for the same reasons as have been given to you before,” Baraitser said to Assange, isolated behind a security screen in the rear of the courtroom at London’s Old Bailey.

Assange, who is being held at Belmarsh Prison in the capital, will likewise have to appear via video link to the court every 28 days between now and the ruling.

The only crime imputed to Assange in the United Kingdom is bail-jumping, for his decision in 2012 to seek asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London while contesting extradition to Sweden over sexual misconduct allegations that were eventually dropped.

Even so, the publisher remains locked up in a prison that houses convicted terrorists and murderers.

Dozens of physicians signed an open letter to UK authorities stating that Assange’s health and life are in peril due to the circumstances of his confinement amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Baraitser, having previously turned down defense requests for more time to address new counts added to the US indictment, refused on Thursday to accept written materials from Assange’s lawyers.

The US originally accused Assange of conspiring with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to obtain classified information for the benefit of WikiLeaks.

At her 2013 court martial, Manning admitted having provided WikiLeaks with 700,000 battlefield reports and diplomatic cables as well as the “Collateral Murder” video of a 2007 US helicopter attack in Iraq.

She testified that she never had any direct contact with Assange.

In June, Washington expanded the indictment to charge Assange with aiding other hackers during the period 2007-2015.

Witnesses called by Assange’s legal team told Baraitser’s court that their client could not get a fair trial in the US and that he might decide to take his own life if the UK were to hand him over to Washington.

The court also heard from Spanish attorney Aitor Martinez, a member of the firm led by former crusading Judge Baltasar Garzon, who has been involved in Assange’s defense.

Martinez provided information about the ongoing court case in Madrid against Spain-based private security firm UC Global, which spied on Assange during his stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy under the guise of protecting the diplomatic mission.

Two former employees of UC Global – whose identities are being withheld for their safety – said in submissions to the court that the firm’s director, David Morales, told them the actions targeting Assange were carried out at the behest of “American friends.”

The protected witnesses said that in December 2017, UC Global employees discussed a scheme to facilitate the abduction of Assange from the embassy.

One of the ex-employees suggested that requests from US intelligence were relayed to Morales by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who hired UC Global to provide security for his yacht during a Mediterranean cruise.

Adelson, estimated to be worth more than $30 billion, has been a major campaign donor to US President Donald Trump.

Stella Moris, who had two children with Assange during his stay in the embassy, spoke to reporters after Thursday’s session.

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