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2/26/20 Julian Assange on unfairness, on ‘spying’ on legal team in fight over extradition PDF Print E-mail
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By Kim Hjelmgaard

From USA Today | Original Article

LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claimed in a British court Wednesday that he is being treated unfairly in his U.S. extradition case because he is being denied sufficient contact with his legal team and because his lawyers have been spied on.

Assange's allegation came on the third day of his extradition hearing at Woolwich Crown Court on the outskirts of London. He is being held next door at Belmarsh Prison.

"I can't speak to my lawyers or instruct them," Assange said from behind high walls made of glass panels. "I can't convey instructions to them confidentially."

Assange added: "This case has already had enough spying on my lawyers."

It was not clear, however, whether Assange was leveling a new allegation that his legal team has been spied on or making again a previous one pertaining to his time in Ecuador's London embassy, where he complained of being surveilled.

On Tuesday, Assange’s lawyers said that following the first day of the hearing, on Monday, Assange was handcuffed 11 times, stripped naked twice and had his case files confiscated when he was returned to his cell.

The Department of Justice wants Assange, 48, to stand trial in the U.S. over 17 indictments connected to the Espionage Act 1917 and one charge related to conspiracy to commit computer misuse – a hacking. His extradition hearing opened this week for the legal arguments. Evidence and testimony from witnesses will be heard in May and June.

The Justice Department accuses Assange of conspiring to hack government computers and violating the 100-year-old espionage law by publishing thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables. He faces decades in prison if convicted. The cables revealed information about alleged U.S. war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.

After Assange's intervention, Baraitser ordered a short break so Assange could briefly discuss his claims with his legal team. Fitzgerald said that Assange wants to be allowed to sit next to his lawyers, but Baraitser said this would raise questions about security and possibly even bail. She said a decision on the request would be addressed Thursday.

Baraitser appeared reluctant to grant the request.

Fitzgerald said Assange was "a gentle man of an intellectual nature and there is no reason why he should not be able to sit with us and be able to communicate with us during the hearing."

The U.S. requested that Britain extradite Assange last year after he was forcibly pulled from Ecuador's embassy in London by British police. He had spent seven years holed up there to avoid being sent to Sweden over sex crime allegations. Those allegations have since been dropped, but Assange was jailed at Belmarsh Prison outside London for 50 weeks for skipping bail when he fled to the embassy. He has already served that sentence, but he has been denied bail in the extradition case because he's been deemed a flight risk.

Assange has claimed that during his time in Ecuador's embassy he and his legal advisers were spied on by Ecuador's government. Ecuador denied the allegation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exchanges in court Wednesday between Assange's defense team and lawyers for the U.S. focused on whether the Trump administration's request for Assange to face spying allegations amounted to "political" charges.

Assange's defense team argued that they did and Fitzgerald said the court needed to take into account various protections enshrined in international law and the European Convention of Human Rights that prohibit extradition for "political offenses."

"It would be pretty strange if this court is silent on the fact that he (Assange) is being charged with espionage, which is a political offense," said Fitzgerald, who likened Assange to Alfred Dreyfus, a 19th-century French military officer whose trial for treason became known as the "Dreyfus Affair." Dreyfus was wrongly convicted, on flimsy evidence, of passing French military secrets to the Germans. The case gained notoriety for taking place in an atmosphere of anti-Semitism. Dreyfus was sentenced to life imprisonment.

James Lewis, who is representing the U.S. government, disputed Fitzgerald's claim that espionage is a "political offense." He said that "there is no such thing as a political offense in ordinary English law. It only arises in an international context," a reference to the defense's claim that Assange's human rights are being violated under international law.

But Lewis was unable to complete his legal arguments Wednesday because Assange asked for the hearing to finish early. It continues Thursday.

 
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