11:44, February 26 228 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-26 11:44:07
Julian Assange asks to sit with lawyers for extradition case

Julian Assange’s extradition case is to hear an application on Thursday for him to leave a dock surrounded by bulletproof glass and sit with his lawyers after he complained of being as much a participant in the proceedings as “watching Wimbledon”.

The WikiLeaks founder, who is fighting extradition to the US, told a judge at Woolwich crown court that he was unable to participate in the case, meaningfully communicate with his lawyers or talk to them with them with any confidentiality, adding that there were “unnamed embassy officials” from the US in the courtroom.

Gesturing to people sitting behind lawyers acting for US authorities, he said they had “a hundred times more contact” with their legal team than he had, before he was told by Vanessa Baraitserthat defendants “don’t normally have a voice unless and until they give evidence”.

Assange went on to complain that “there has been enough spying on my lawyers already” – an apparent reference to the surveillance of him and others when he spent a number of years inside the Ecuadorean embassy.

“We respectfully submit this is 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,” said Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Assange, who told the court earlier that his client was now on medication.

James Lewis QC, a barrister for the US authorities, said he would have no problem, for example, with Assange being allowed to sit in the well of the court handcuffed to a security official. However, he would oppose a bail application, which his counterpart had suggested he might do.

Judge Baraitser said that allowing Assange out of the dock was not a risk assessment she could make and questioned whether he would still technically be in custody if allowed out of the dock. Advice is to be sought overnight.

Earlier, Assange was likened to the Iraq war whistleblower Katharine Gun and the 19th-century French army officer Alfred Dreyfus as his lawyers argued that his extradition to the US should be prohibited.

A central plank of efforts to prevent him from being sent for trial in the US was laid out on the third day of hearings at Woolwich crown court, where Fitzgerald said the US-UK extradition treaty expressly ruled out extradition for political offences.

He argued that Assange, who has been charged in the US with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and 17 charges under the Espionage Act, faces the same sort of accusation that the UK brought against Gun, a GCHQ employee who leaked details to the Observer of a secret US campaign to spy on the UN before the Iraq war.

“Had she fled to another country, she would have been able to say, ‘This is a purely political offence,’” said Fitzgerald, who cited Dreyfus, the French military officer of Jewish descent wrongly convicted of spying in 1894 in an atmosphere of antisemitism.

“Equally, we know that Dreyfus was charged with espionage, providing information to the German armed forces. It turned out to be a totally false and wrong allegation but there is no doubt that had he gone to the UK and had France sought his extradition it would have been a purely political offence even if the allegations had been accepted.”

Prosecutors say Assange’s case is covered only by theExtradition Act 2003, which makes no exception for political offences.

Responding to the defence, Lewis said there was no such thing as a political offence in ordinary English law, adding that it arose only in an international context.

“It cannot ever be said that we cannot prosecute members of the IRA here in the UK for sedition,” he added. “Which ever way one looks at it, the treaty has not given any rights whatsoever to Mr Assange.”

The hearing continues.

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