Assange’s legal fight to avoid US espionage trial resumes in UK

Source: Reuters Published: 2020/9/7 19:18:41

Julian Assange resumes his battle in a London court on Monday to avoid extradition to the US to face criminal charges over the activities of his WikiLeaks website, after months of delay due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Demonstrators hold signs with the motto "Free Julian Assange" during a protest to show solidarity with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Barcelona on Monday. A British court hearing began this week regarding his extradition to Washington, in a test of the global limits of US justice and media freedom in the digital age. Photo: AFP

The US authorities accuse Australian-born Assange, 49, of conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law in connection with the release of confidential cables by WikiLeaks in 2010-11.

Assange is seen by his admirers as a champion of free speech who exposed US abuses of power. His critics say that by publishing unredacted documents, he recklessly endangered the lives of intelligence sources in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

He has also attracted more recent criticism over the release by WikiLeaks during the 2016 US presidential campaign of documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee, damaging nominee Hillary Clinton. He denies accusations by US investigators that WikiLeaks obtained those documents from Russian hackers. The issue is not part of the legal proceedings.

Assange made international headlines in 2010 when WikiLeaks published a US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff. The site later published vast troves of US military records and diplomatic cables.

His legal team in London argues that the US charges against him are political and a threat to press freedom. They have also said he would be a suicide risk if sent to the US, where he could face years in prison.

Lawyers applied for bail for him in March, arguing he was vulnerable to the coronavirus. But the court ordered him held, citing a high risk he would abscond. Assange's legal travails in Britain date to 2010, when he began fighting an attempt to extradite him to Sweden to answer questions about allegations of sexual assault, which have since been dropped. In June 2012, facing imminent extradition, he sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy.

He spent seven years holed up there. His partner, Stella Morris, revealed in 2020 that he had fathered two children while inside the embassy. 

After he fell out with his hosts and Ecuador revoked his asylum, he was dragged out of the embassy in April 2019 and served a short British prison sentence for violating bail terms.

Posted in: EUROPE

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