08:26, May 02 249 0 theguardian.com

2019-05-02 08:26:04
US begins extradition case against Julian Assange in London

Julian Assange has declined a chance to consent to his extradition to the US at a court hearing in London where the American government started pressing its case to take him across the Atlantic.

Appearing by videolink from Belmarsh prison, Assange said: “I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many, many awards and protected many, many people.”

Ben Brandon, counsel for the US government, presented details of the US case against Assange at Westminster magistrates court. He said that the charges related to one of the largest compromises of information in the history of the US.

They were connected to the downloading of a “vast amount of classified documents” by Chelsea Manning, the US intelligence analyst who subsequently served a prison sentence.

They included approximately 90,000 reports about the war in Afghanistan, 400,000 reports about the Iraq war and 800,000 Guantánamo Bay detainee assessments, as well as a large number of US diplomatic cables.

Referring to other details in a March 2018 indictment – which was unsealed last month in the US district court for the eastern district of Virginia and which charged Assange – Brandon said that details of chatroom communications between Manning and Assange demonstrated that he had agreed to help Manning with cracking a password that protected US Department of Defense computers.

Those computers were then used to download material which was transmitted to WikiLeaks, the whistleblowing website Assange founded.

In the brief hearing in London, Judge Michael Snow told Assange that he could consent to his surrender to the US.


Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy

WikiLeaks releases about 470,000 classified military documents concerning American diplomacy and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It later releases a further tranche of more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables.

A Swedish prosecutor issues a European arrest warrant for Assange over sexual assault allegations involving two Swedish women. Assange denies the claims.

He turns himself in to police in London and is placed in custody. He is later released on bail and calls the Swedish allegations a smear campaign.

A British judge rules that Assange can be extradited to Sweden. Assange fears Sweden will hand him over to US authorities who could prosecute him.

He takes refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He requests, and is later granted, political asylum.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says Assange has been 'arbitrarily detained' and should be able to claim compensation from Britain and Sweden. Britain and Sweden rebuff the non-binding ruling.

Assange is questioned in a two-day interview over the allegations at the Ecuadorian embassy by Swedish authorities.

WikiLeaks says Assange could travel to the United States to face investigation if his rights are 'guaranteed'. It comes after one of the site's main sources of leaked documents, Chelsea Manning, is given clemency.

Nigel Farage is spotted visiting the Ecuadorian embassy. 

Swedish prosecutors say they have closed their seven-year sex assault investigation into Assange. British police say they would still arrest him if he leaves the embassy as he breached the terms of his bail in 2012.

Britain refuses Ecuador's request to accord Assange diplomatic status, which would allow him to leave the embassy without being arrested.

He loses a bid to have his British arrest warrant cancelled on health grounds.

Ecuador cuts off Assange's internet access alleging he broke an agreement on interfering in other countries' affairs.

US prosecutors inadvertently disclose the existence of a sealed indictment against Assange.

Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno says Assange has 'repeatedly violated' the conditions of his asylum at the embassy.

Police arrest Assange at the embassy after his asylum was withdrawn. Scotland Yard confirmed that Assange was arrested on behalf of the US after receiving a request for his extradition. Assange has been charged by the US with 'a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer.'

He is jailed for 50 weeks in the UK for breaching his bail conditions back in 2012. An apology letter from Assange is read out in court, but the judge rules that he had engaged in a “deliberate attempt to evade justice”.

Consenting meant that he would lose his rights to appeal but the advantage was that it would expedite matters and could lead to an early resolution of his case, Snow said. Assange, who appeared wearing a black jacket and T-shirt, declined.

Snow asked Brandon what the maximum sentence in the US was for the offences and was told that it was five years, before the case was adjourned until 12 June in anticipation of a formal request for extradition being served by the US within the period required.

Snow told Assange that the hearing on Thursday was merely a procedural one.

“There will be a another merely procedural hearing on May 30, where I suspect even less will happen,” he added.

The next hearing where something of substance would happen would be 12 June because, by then, Assange would have received all of the paperwork from the US, the judge said. However, he said that he suspected that it would take many months before “the full substance” of Assange’s case was heard.

The 47-year-old was jailed on Thursday for just under a year for breaching bail conditions to avoid being extradited to Sweden.

A judge largely rejected the mitigating factors put forward by lawyers for Assange – who took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy to London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which he has denied – and told him it was difficult to envisage a more serious example of the offence.