January 28, 2021

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Assange’s bid to be freed from the dock

4 min read
<p>WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange wants to be allowed to sit on the bench with his lawyers, complaining about a lack of privacy while sitting in the dock</p>

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange wants to be freed from the dock to sit with his lawyers at his extradition hearing in London.

Assange's barrister Edward Fitzgerald made the suggestion after the Australian told the court he was struggling to concentrate and communicate with his lawyers privately.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser asked Assange's solicitor Gareth Pierce to check if her client was "right to carry on" after he had been closing he eyes for long periods of Wednesday's hearing.

Julian Assange supporters protest outside Woolwich Crown Court in London, Britain, 26 February 2020.

But instead of talking with Ms Pierce, Assange addressed the judge.

"I am as much a participant in these proceedings as I am watching Wimbledon," he said in the Woolwich Crown Court on Wednesday.

"I cannot communicate with my lawyers or ask them for clarifications without the other side seeing. There has been enough spying on my lawyers already.

"What is the point of asking if I can concentrate if I cannot participate."

Assange's lawyers say the US government spied on his meetings with members of his legal time while in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

After a five-minute adjournment, Assange's lawyers returned and asked the judge if he could come out of the dock and sit on the bench with them.

"This is a gentle man of intellectual nature, there is no reason why he should not sit with us," Fitzgerald said.

'It is your call madam, you can deal with the court as you see fit."

Judge Baraitser appeared taken aback at the unexpected request and asked for the other side's opinion.

James Lewis QC, for the US government, said he wasn't sure if it would be a risk to allow Assange out of the dock.

He gave the example of a High Court defendant being allowed to sit in court while handcuffed to an officer.

"From the prosecution's point of view we take a neutral stance ... we will oppose bail," he said.

Judge Baraister said she was uncertain about the risk of freeing Assange from the dock and ruled for the defence to make a formal bail application for him to sit on the bench.

Fitzgerald said the team would consider an application for courtroom bail overnight.

Assange has been charged in the US with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act and one of conspiring to commit computer intrusion over the leaking and publishing of thousands of classified US diplomatic and military files in 2010.

The charges carry a total of 175 years' imprisonment.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, May 19, 2017.

Julian Assange can't be extradited to the US to face prosecution over WikiLeaks releases because the offences he is charged with are political, his lawyers say.

The US government wants the 48-year-old extradited from the UK to face 18 charges over the leaking and publishing of thousands of classified US diplomatic and military files in 2010.

But Assange's barrister Edward Fitzgerald QC has told the Australia's extradition hearing that violent crimes and terrorism are the only types of political crimes countries are allowed to extradite people for.

"If it's not a terrorist case, not a violent offence, then the principle you should not be extradited for a political offence is of virtually universal application. It dates back for more than 100 years," Fitzgerald argued in London's Woolwich Crown Court on Wednesday.

"The US, of course, writes it into every treaty because they don't want their citizens being extradited for political offences."

Fitzgerald said it would be "pretty strange" if the court was powerless to stop Assange being extradited for a political offence.

"It would not be equivalent with the international rule of law," he said.

James Lewis QC, for the US government, disagreed with Fitzgerald that espionage was a "pure political offence".

"We don't accept that it deals with pure political offences, it's relative political offences," he said.

Assange appeared tense during the morning session. Fitzgerald told the court he was taking medication but did not specify the type.

The court heard on Tuesday he had been stripped naked twice, handcuffed 11 times, been put in five different holding cells and had his case files confiscated by prison guards while going to and from the courthouse.

His lawyers and family say he has been held in solitary confinement and denied access to a computer or pens and paper for almost nine months.

Fitzgerald said on Wednesday that Assange had not been held in a proper manner under accepted international law and existing extradition treaties.

Source: 9News https://www.9news.com.au/world/julian-assange-extradition-hearing-court/0254e2c1-4e21-4dc1-a55c-8a073cf11d8a

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