A lawyer for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange says that his client was too ill to appear in court via video link. This comes as June 12 is set as the next date in a hearing on his potential extradition to the US.
Julian Assange, the Australian founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, was in too poor health to appear at a British court hearing on a US extradition request on Thursday, even via a video link from prison, his lawyer said at the brief hearing in London.
The lawyer, Gareth Peirce, said Assange, 47, was "in fact far from well," a description echoed by Judge Emma Arbuthnot.
WikiLeaks itself on Wednesday voiced concerns about Assange's state of health, saying he had been moved to the health ward of Belmarsh Prison and had lost a lot of weight. The non-profit organization said its publisher's health had "already significantly deteriorated" during the seven years he spent staying at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he had found refuge in 2012 after Sweden sought his extradition on sexual assault charges.
The US has now also requested his extradition to try him on espionage charges related to WikiLeaks' 2010 release of classified documents into the public domain.
Assange was arrested by UK police at the Ecuadorean Embassy on April 11 after various disputes with Ecuadorean authorities led to the withdrawal of his asylum.
Assange faces a total of 18 US criminal counts with decades in prison if he were to be extradited and convicted. WikiLeaks said in its statement that Assange potentially even risked the death penalty under the charges, saying the Trump administration was "in essence criminaliz[ing] the very act of journalism."
US prosecutors say Assange put the life of US agents, diplomats and informants at risk by releasing military documents and diplomatic cables.
The British government has said Assange will not be extradited if there is the risk of him being executed. The ultimate decision on extradition, whether to Sweden or the US, will rest with the UK's Home Office.
The court has now set June 12 as the date of a next hearing on the US' extradition request. Swedish prosecutors have also reopened their investigations of Assange after suspending them during his stay at the embassy.
He is currently serving a 50-week sentence in the UK for breaching bail in 2012 to seek asylum from Ecuador.
tj/msh (Reuters, AP)