The extradition case for Julian Assange officially opened Friday at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London, which ruled that the decision on whether Assange will be extradited to the United States to face charges under the Espionage Act will not come until the end of February 2020 at the earliest. A rough schedule was laid out for formal proceedings which are expected to extend into late February and early March of 2020.
This came after yesterday’s news that British Home Secretary Sanjid Javid signed the US extradition request, effectively certifying it for consideration of the courts, thus to stake the Tory government position on the matter.
The hearing was held in Court Room No. 3, an extremely small room with gallery seating on same level as the court with enough room for only 10 friends and family, ten journalists, and 10 members of the public.
The defendant was not physically present and appeared via video link from Belmarsh prison, where he is serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail by seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid onward extradition from Sweden to the United States. He was arrested on April 11 when Ecuador allowed British police to enter the embassy.
The WikiLeaks publisher told the court that “175 years of my life is effectively at stake,” according to Sky News. He addressed the judge as Lady Arbuthnot, saying: “WikiLeaks is nothing but a publisher.”
Inside the court room, Assange’s defense was led by Mark Summers QC, who implored the court to grant his team sufficient time to prepare for what was going to be a “complex case” touching a “multiplicity of profound issues” with “profound implications.”
“We say it represents an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights,” he said.
I was in Court Room No.3 for #JulianAssange US extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London. The following are some of my observations from today's proceedings…#WiliLeaks #AssangeHearing pic.twitter.com/CwY4fkHveg
— Patrick Henningsen (@21WIRE) June 14, 2019
After the hearing, 21st Century Wire’s Patrick Henningsen spoke to reporter Shadia Edwards-Dashti from RT International News, and explained the advantages and disadvantages for both the prosecution and the defense in this historic case.
Tristan Kirk, the London Evening Standard‘s courts reporter, tweeted:
Julian Assange will not face a full extradition hearing until next year, court hears. Five day hearing to be listed on a date after Feb 24.
— Tristan Kirk (@kirkkorner) June 14, 2019
Kirk said he argued his way into the court room after he and the rest of the media had been barred by a security guard from entering the public hearing that lasted under 30 minutes.
As Ben Brandon, the lawyer representing the United States, ran through a summary of the accusations against him including that he had cracked a U.S. defence network password, Assange said: “I didn’t break any password whatsoever.”
The British home secretary signed the extradition request from the U.S. on Wednesday. Sajiid Javid said Thursday:
“I want to see justice done at all times and we’ve got a legitimate extradition request, so I’ve signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts.”
Both sides in the extradition battle will now have about eight months to prepare their case.
Assange’s Belmarsh sentence will end at the end of March 2020, meaning he will remain in the maximum security prison until the extradition hearing.
A number of issues are set to arise in the next few months, not the least of which is what happens after Assange serves out his custodial sentence for ‘bail-skipping’ imposed by the British government.
— Flick Ruby (@FlickRubicon) June 14, 2019