Assange back in Westminster Court

Julian Assange appeared at a further administrative hearing at Westminster Crown Court, London on 27 July via video link, the first time since 7 April when he was last seen in court. The conference call was organised after delay, due to failure of Belmarsh prison to arrange the appearance, and only after his lawyers protested his absence. Judge Baraitser said as the new substances of the case weren’t being discussed, Assange didn’t need to appear via videolink from Belmarsh prison, although last month she ordered him to appear unless he had a medical reason not to.

A second superseding US government indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is still yet to be served to a British court. “As it stands no further superseding indictment is before this court,” said the judge.

According to a report in The Guardian on 28 July The US attorney general, William Barr, may be using Julian Assange’s extraction case in the UK for political ends, the WikiLeaks founder’s defence team alleged during a court hearing at which he appeared by video link from prison for the first time in months.

It was a fact that Donald Trump had described the defence case as “a plot by the Democrats”, Edward Fitzgerald QC told the hearing at Westminster magistrates court. Fitzgerald said a new superseding US indictment, produced months after the start of attempts in the UK to secure his extradition, had been “sprung” on his defence team.

The indictment, which had not yet been formally laid before the court, supersedes previous indictments brought in February and which related to 2010 and 2011.

A US grand jury had previously indicted Assange on 18 charges – 17 of which fall under the Espionage Act – around conspiracy to receive, obtaining and disclosing classified diplomatic and military documents.

According to The Guardian report, the details in the new indictment released last month by the US Department of Justice, focus on conferences in 2009 in the Netherlands and Malaysia at which US prosecutors say Assange tried to recruit hackers who could find classified information, including in relation to a “most wanted leaks” list posted on the WikiLeaks website.

Monday’s hearing was the latest in a series of administrative hearings. Chaotic arrangements meant journalists, legal observers and some lawyers had difficulty accessing it remotely to listen in. The full hearing of the extradition case has been postponed until 7 September due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The defence told the hearing it would be improper if the new indictment led to the postponement of the hearing until after the November presidential election in the US.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser told the hearing that the deadline had arrived for any further evidence before the extradition hearing, aside from psychiatric reports. She said she expected all parties to attend the hearing in September in person.

Outside the court, the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson, said: “The ‘new’ superseding indictment actually contains nothing new. All the alleged events have been known to the prosecution for years.

However according to the US Department of Justice, the new indictment does, broaden the scope of the conspiracy surrounding alleged computer intrusions with which Assange was previously charged.”

A further administrative hearing is scheduled for Monday 14 August.

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