United Kingdom

Judge will rule on January 4 whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited

Julian Assange will spend Christmas in a British prison while he waits for his extradition fate to be decided on January 4, a judge ruled today.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser told London's Old Bailey she will then make her ruling on whether the WikiLeaks founder should be handed over to the United States to face espionage charges.   

US authorities accuse Australian-born Assange, 49, of conspiring to hack government computers and of violating an espionage law in connection with the release of confidential cables in 2010-2011.

Today marked the conclusion of hearings from witnesses in the case that began after he was thrown out of the Ecuadorian embassy following almost seven years asylum there.

Adjourning the case until early next year, Judge Baraitser remanded him in custody and said he will next appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court for an administrative hearing on October 29.

Assange, who fathered two children while holed up at the embassy, has already spent 16 months at Belmarsh top security jail. 

A large group of protesters campaigning for Assange's release made their presence known outside the court this afternoon.

The WikiLeaks founders' partner Stella Morris said they were in 'a fight for Julian's life, a fight for press freedom and a fight for the truth'. 

Julian Assange is pictured being taken from court in May 2019. A judge will rule whether he will extradited to the US in January

Assange, who fathered two children while holed up at the embassy (pictured addressing the media on the balcony in 2017), has already spent 16 months at Belmarsh top security jail

Stella Moris, partner of Julian Assange gives a statement outside the Old Bailey in London today

Assange's legal team has called dozens of witnesses in a bid to persuade the district judge to block his extradition.

They have questioned the strength of the evidence against Assange, who faces 18 charges including a plot to hack computers and conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.

Assange has refuted the claim he plotted with defence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack an encrypted password on US Department of Defence computers and that unredacted leaks by WikiLeaks put US informants' lives at risk.

Witnesses have told the court the prosecution under the Donald Trump administration has been politically motivated, after an investigation launched under President Barack Obama failed to bring charges.

His lawyer Jennifer Robinson described a meeting in August 2017 in which he was offered a pardon allegedly on behalf of Mr Trump to identify the source of the Democratic National Committee leaks to WikiLeaks which boosted him in the 2016 election in order to end speculation over Russian involvement.

Meanwhile, security contractor was allegedly recruited by 'American friends' to bug Assange's meetings at the Ecuadorian embassy.

Kristinn Hrafnsson editor in chief of Wikileaks gives a statement outside the Old Bailey in London

By December 2017, the US contacts were said to be 'desperate', and even discussed a potential kidnap or poison plot to end the stalemate.

US lawyer Eric Lewis told the court Mr Trump 'wants to put Mr Assange in jail and keep him quiet'.

The defence say the US constitution's first amendment on freedom of speech has previously protected publishers of leaks, and to prosecute would be a 'chilling' precedent.

Other witnesses told of the likelihood that Assange would be subjected to harsh prison conditions under controversial Special Administrative Measures (Sams), more commonly reserved for dangerous terrorists.

If Assange was convicted, he could face up to 175 years in a Supermax ADX facility in Colorado, where convicted terrorist Abu Hamza has been housed under Sams in solitary confinement, the court heard.

Such conditions would be torturous for Assange, who was said to have Asperger's syndrome.

Psychiatrists for the defence said he had suffered from severe depression and was a high suicide risk, it has been claimed.

Lawyers for the US Government have said the prospect of Assange being held under Sams is 'speculative' and the sentence was likely to be much lower.

Ms Manning had been sentenced to 35 years over her role in leaking classified material, but was given clemency after seven years.

However, she was jailed again for contempt in 2019 and fined for refusing to testify in court about Assange.

A psychiatrist for the prosecution told the court that Assange's depression was 'moderate' and his suicide risk 'manageable'.

Dr Nigel Blackwood pointed out Assange's behaviour demonstrates he is a 'resourceful' and 'resilient' man capable of sharing banter with others.

However, the defence said an incident in May 2019 in which a razor was found hidden in Assange's cell beneath underwear told a different story.

The evidence ended on Thursday with a series of witness statements summarised in court, including five from Assange's solicitor, Gareth Peirce.

She said legally privileged material had been seized from the Ecuadorian embassy after his eviction, at the request of the US.

Mrs Peirce also claimed her own meetings with Assange in December 2017 and January 2018 were the subject of surveillance, with records handed to the US intelligence agencies.

'I was wholly unaware of that surveillance,' she said, although Assange 'remained suspicious throughout that period'.

'There is a very high level of anxiety and fear that legal interviews with Mr Assange are continuing to be monitored,' she said.

'This fear is triggered by the clear evidence that surveillance had been taking place over a number of years.'

Mrs Peirce said this had had a 'chilling effect' on the preparation for Assange's extradition hearing and 'effected confidence as to the confidentiality of his case'.

Throughout the hearings in Court 10, pro-Assange protesters have staged noisy and colourful demonstrations outside the historic central London court, shouting, banging drums and a glockenspiel.

Mr Assange's father, John Shipton, had been joined by the artist Ai Weiwei and designer Dame Vivienne Westwood - who also lent their support.

Assange's partner, Stella Moris, sat metres from Assange, who on three occasions leapt up in the dock as he became animated by the evidence.

In an unprecedented move brought about by Covid-19 restrictions, dozens of journalists watched by video link or in an socially-distanced courtroom next door as the majority of witnesses gave evidence remotely from the US.

JULIAN ASSANGE'S LONG LEGAL BATTLE 

2006

Assange creates Wikileaks with a group of like-minded activists and IT experts to provide a secure way for whistleblowers to leak information. He quickly becomes its figurehead and a lightning rod for criticism.

2010

March: U.S. authorities allege Assange engaged in a conspiracy to hack a classified U.S. government computer with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. 

July: Wikileaks starts releasing tens of thousands of top secrets documents, including a video of U.S. helicopter pilots gunning down 12 civilians in Baghdad in 2007.  What followed was the release of more than 90,000 classified US military files from the Afghan war and 400,000 from Iraq that included the names of informants. 

August: Two Swedish women claim that they each had consensual sex with Assange in separate instances when he was on a 10-day trip to Stockholm. They allege the sex became non-consensual when Assange refused to wear a condom.

First woman claims Assange was staying at her apartment in Stockholm when he ripped off her clothes. She told police that when she realized Assange was trying to have unprotected sex with her, she demanded he use a condom. She claims he ripped the condom before having sex.

Second Swedish woman claims she had sex with Assange at her apartment in Stockholm and she made him wear a condom. She alleges that she later woke up to find Assange having unprotected sex with her.

He was questioned by police in Stockholm and denied the allegations. Assange was granted permission by Swedish authorities to fly back to the U.K.  

November: A Swedish court ruled that the investigation should be reopened and Assange should be detained for questioning on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. An international arrest warrant is issued by Swedish police through Interpol.

Wikileaks releases its cache of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables.  

December: Assange presents himself to London police and appears at an extradition hearing where he is remanded in custody. Assange is granted conditional bail at the High Court in London after his supporters pay £240,000 in cash and sureties.

2011

February: A British judge rules Assange should be extradited to Sweden but Wikileaks found vows to fight the decision.

April:  A cache of classified U.S. military documents is released by Wikileaks, including intelligence assessments on nearly all of the 779 people who are detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

November: Assange loses High Court appeal against the decision to extradite him.

2012

June: Assange enters the Ecuadorian embassy in London requesting political asylum. 

August: Assange is granted political asylum by Ecuador.

2013

June: Assange tells a group of journalists he will not leave the embassy even if sex charges against him are dropped out of fear he will be extradited to the U.S.

2015

August: Swedish prosecutors drop investigation into some of the sex allegations against Assange due to time restrictions. The investigation into suspected rape remains active.

2016

July: Wikileaks begins leaking emails U.S. Democratic Party officials favoring Hillary Clinton.

November: Assange is questioned over the sex allegation at the Ecuadorian Embassy in the presence of Sweden's assistant prosecutor Ingrid Isgren and police inspector Cecilia Redell. The interview spans two days. 

2017

January: Barack Obama agrees to free whistleblower Chelsea Manning from prison. Her pending release prompts speculation Assange will end his self-imposed exile after Wikileaks tweeted he would agree to U.S. extradition.

April: Lenin Moreno becomes the new president of Ecuador who was known to want to improve diplomatic relations between his country and the U.S. 

May: An investigation into a sex allegation against Assange is suddenly dropped by Swedish prosecutors. 

2018

January: Ecuador confirms it has granted citizenship to Assange following his request. 

February: Assange is visited by Pamela Anderson and Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel.

March: The Ecuadorian Embassy suspends Assange's internet access because he wasn't complying with a promise he made the previous year to 'not send messages which entailed interference in relation to other states'.

August: U.S. Senate committee asks to interview Assange as part of their investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

September: Assange steps down as editor of WikiLeaks.

October: Assange reveals he will launch legal action against the government of Ecuador, accusing it of violating his 'fundamental rights and freedoms'.

November: U.S. Justice Department inadvertently names Assange in a court document that says he has been charged in secret. 

2019

January: Assange's lawyers say they are taking action to make President Trump's administration reveal charges 'secretly filed' against him.

April 6: WikiLeaks tweets that a high level Ecuadorian source has told them Assange will be expelled from the embassy within 'hours or days'. But a senior Ecuadorian official says no decision has been made to remove him from the London building. 

April 11: Assange has his diplomatic asylum revoked by Ecuador and he is arrested by the Metropolitan Police; he is remanded in custody by a judge at Westminster Magistrates Court.

April 12: He is found guilty of breaching his bail terms.

May 1: Sentenced to 11 months in jail.

May 2: Court hearing takes place over Assange's proposed extradition to the U.S. He tells a court he does not consent to the extradition and the case is adjourned until May 30.

May 13: Swedish prosecutors reopen rape case saying they still want to question Assange. 

June 3: Swedish court rules against detaining him in absentia, setting back the extradition case.

June 12 Home Secretary Sajid Javid signs an extradition request from the US.

June 13 A hearing sets out the date for Assange's full extradition hearing - February next year.

November  Swedish prosecutors stop investigation into an allegation of rape against Mr Assange 

November 25 - Medics say without correct medical care Assange 'could die' in Belmarsh 

December 13 -  Hearing in London hears he is being blocked from seeing key evidence in case

December 19 - Appears at Westminster Magistrates' Court via video-link where his lawyer claims US bid to extradite him is 'political'. 

2020   

February 24 -Assange faces an extradition hearing at Woolwich Crown Court.

Assange's representatives argue he cannot legally be handed to the US for 'political offences' because of a 2003 extradition treaty.

March 2 - Assange appears by video link at Westminster Magistrates' Court, where he is refused bail amid the coronavirus crisis.

April 11 - Stella Moris, Assange's partner, who gave birth to his two children while he was living inside the Ecuadorian embassy, issues a plea for his release amid fears for his health.

June 24 - The US Department of Justice issues an updated 18-count indictment, over Assange's alleged role in 'one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States'.

August 25 - Ms Moris visits her partner in Belmarsh prison for the first time in almost six months.

September 7 - Assange's extradition hearings resume at the Old Bailey. They are expected to go on for up to four weeks.

October 1 - Judge Vanessa Baraitser adjourned the case at the Old Bailey until January 4 when she will deliver her ruling on whether Assange should be extradited. This means he will spend Christmas in prison.

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