Assange too ill to attend key hearing against extradition

Published February 21, 2024
LONDON: Supporters of Julian Assange stand outside the high court as appeals against his extradition to the US are heard on Tuesday.—Reuters
LONDON: Supporters of Julian Assange stand outside the high court as appeals against his extradition to the US are heard on Tuesday.—Reuters

• Lawyer says he was targeted over WikiLeaks’ exposures
• Crowd chants ‘Free Julian Assange’ outside court

LONDON: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was absent from a London court due to illness Tuesday as his lawyer made a final appeal against extradition to the United States to face trial for publishing secret military and diplomatic files.

Washington wants the Australian extradited after he was charged in the United States multiple times between 2018 and 2020 over WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of files on the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Attending the two-day hearing in Assange’s absence, his lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said the prosecution could not be justified. “He is being prosecuted for engaging in ordinary journalistic practice of obtaining and publishing classified information, information that is both true and of obvious and important public interest,” Fitzgerald said.

Earlier, he told judge Victoria Sharp that his client, 52, was “not well today” and would not att­end London’s High Court in person or via video link.

Before the hearing, Assange’s wife Stella thanked a crowd of protesters, saying: “Please keep on showing up, be there for Julian and for us, until Julian is free.” The crowd outside court chanted “Free Julian Assange”.

“We have two big days ahead. We don’t know what to expect, but you’re here because the world is watching,” Stella Assange added.

“They just cannot get away with this. Julian needs his freedom and we all need the truth.” The long-running legal saga in Britain’s courts is nearly concluded, after Assange lost successive rulings in recent years.

If this week’s bid to appeal is successful, he will have another chance to argue his case in a London court, with a date set for a full hearing. If he loses, Assange will have exhausted all UK appeals and the extradition process will begin.

Stella Assange, however, said her husband will ask the European Court of Human Rights to temporarily halt the extradition if needed, warning he would die if sent to the United States.

“Tomorrow and the day after will determine whether he lives or dies essentially, and he’s physically and mentally obviously in a very difficult place,” she told BBC radio on Monday.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, Wik­i­Leaks’ editor-in-chief, told reporters last week that caveats included within the US promises meant they were “not worth the paper they are written on”.

On the same day, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese denounced the years-long legal pursuit of Assange, saying “enough is enough”.

It came after Australia’s parliament passed a motion to end to his prosecution.

Assange and his wife, a lawyer who he met when she worked on his case, have two children together.

After the end of the morning’s court proceedings, Hrafnsson told Assange’s supporters there would be a protest march down to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street office later Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2024

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