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Assange objects to US extradition in London court

September 7, 2020

Julian Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if extradited. Supporters of the WikiLeaks founder claim he was targeted for "publishing and providing journalists with information that served the public interest."

Supporters of Julian Assange outside the Old Bailey on Monday, September 7, 2020
Image: Reuters/P. Nicholls

A UK judge rejected a request by Assange's lawyers to delay his US extradition hearing until January on Monday. Previously, Assange's defense team asked for more time to prepare a response to fresh allegations that he conspired with hackers to obtain classified information.

Ahead of the decision, Julian Assange's partner, lawyer Stella Moris, delivered a petition with nearly 80,000 signatures calling for the release of the WikiLeaks founder. The petition, organized by media freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), was delivered to Downing Street, the seat of the UK government.

Read more: UK court weighs extradition of WikiLeaks founder to US 

'Politically motivated case'

Assange hearing continued at London's Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, on Monday. The activist appeared in the dock wearing a dark suit and maroon tie — the first time he was seen in public since the first part of the hearing took place in February. It had been scheduled to go ahead in April, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Großbritannien London | Gericht Old Bailey | Prozess Julian Assange | Zeichnung
Assange, seen here in court on Monday, is accused of publishing secret documents about the wars in Iraq and AfghanistanImage: Reuters/Julia Quenzler

The 48-year-old Australian spoke to confirm his name and date of birth, and said he did not consent to extradition.

The whistleblower is accused of publishing secret documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and violating anti-espionage law in the US. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to 175 years.

"The US and UK governments must drop this politically motivated case before their press freedom records are further tarnished," said Rebecca Vincent, RSF's director of international campaigns. 

Read more: WikiLeaks and Julian Assange: The never-ending story

Extradition 'almost certain' to be appealed

Washington has sought Assange's extradition for years. He has fought being transferred to the US since his arrest in April 2019 — at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he took refuge for seven years — for failing to surrender to a warrant linked to Swedish charges that were eventually dropped.

A court ruling in favor of extradition is "almost certain" to be appealed by Assange's legal team, according to John Rees from the Don't Extradite Assange Campaign.

Assange, who his supporters see as a figurehead for press freedom and investigative journalism, had a "very strong defense," said Rees, who expressed concern that the case had become "highly politicized."

The Old Bailey hearing is due to last three or four weeks.

Read more: Assange suffers from 'psychological torture:' UN expert

kw/dj (AFP, dpa)