Extradition Hearing Against Julian Assange Begins Amid Protests And False Claims By US Government
Above: A pedestrian passes pro-Assange graffiti outside Westminster Magistrates Court in London. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
In what has been described by many as the most important case for Freedom of the Press in the 21st Century, the extradition hearings against Julian Assange began on Monday, February 24, 2020.
Thanks to 1300+ journalists for standing up & taking responsibility – for #Assange, for themselves, for all of us & for future generations! The time to speak up is NOW, when telling the truth still is not a crime!#JournalistsSpeakUpForAssange https://t.co/2rfFpQkeGu via @YouTube
— Nils Melzer (@NilsMelzer) February 24, 2020
Protesters were outside the Woolwich Crown Court in southeast London as the sound of protest was heard in the distance. The slogans “Free Julian Assange”, “Journalism is not a crime”, “Free press, Free Assange”, were repeated over and over again in the crowd. In court, Assange said he cannot hear or concentrate because of the noise outside the court. He said he was “very appreciative of the public support” but he was unable to hear properly. He said, “I’m very appreciative of the public support, I understand they must be disgusted.”
The protesters include approximately a dozen yellow vest protesters who traveled from Paris overnight. Jean-Baptiste Voltuan, 64, said: “I am a yellow vest here to support because he did the best for all the world, for his courage. “There are dozens of us. We took a night bus from Paris.” Yellow Vests, who’ve traveled to London from Paris to protest outside the courthouse, present a vest to John Shipton to give to his son Julian Assange.
#GiletsJaunes who have travelled from #Paris give a yellow vest to Julian #Assange. Presenting it to his father before the extradition hearing in #London begins. #FreeAssange#DontExtraditeAssange
— nonouzi (@Gerrrty) February 24, 2020
Celebrities such as Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters, Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood have joined the wave of protests taking place since last Saturday, to protest spying charges against Assange.
“Assange is an innocent man, wrongly accused. The only reason he is on trial is for exposing information that is inconvenient for the United States government,” Roger Waters has told reporters.
WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson addressed the media outside the courthouse. He asked why the court was discussing the alleged harm done by the releases on Afghanistan and Iraq in 2010 and not the war crimes that those documents revealed. “That is what we should be talking about in a courtroom in this country.
— John McEvoy (@jmcevoy_2) February 24, 2020
US prosecutors argued that Assange is not a journalist and that he risked the lives of US informants. These false arguments about people being harmed by Wikileaks’s reporting US war crimes have been discredited bu the statements of US government officials. Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, spoke with the press outside the courthouse during a break and denounced the prosecutors’ allegation, saying:
“The essential part of the argument of the prosectors’ case is that WikiLeaks publications endangered sources. This is simply not true. The Pentagon admitted, under oath, in Chelsea Manning’s trial that nobody had been hurt by the releases.
Robert Gates, ex-secretary of defense, in testimony before Congress said it’s awkward, it’s embarrassing, but no damage was done. I’ll note that the prosecutor didn’t give one example of a broken fingernail. He just said sources were endangered. Well it’s simply not true.”
Longtime Assange associate, Joseph Farrell, also spoke to the press saying these were the same falsehoods that were told in the Chelsea Manning trial:
Breaking: WikiLeaks spokesperson Joseph Farrell at the recess says the prosecution has proposed a “flat contradiction and a repeat of the Manning trial” pic.twitter.com/S2cS1k0XWj
— John McEvoy (@jmcevoy_2) February 24, 2020
The 48-year-old Assange has been indicted in the U.S. on 18 charges over the publication of US cables a decade ago and if found guilty could face a 175-year prison sentence. If extradited Assange is not expected to get a fair trial in the United States and prosecutors have already announced that he and his lawyers have no First Amendment rights in the US so they will not be allowed to speak about the case.
This week’s extradition hearing is the beginning of a multi-year process. After a week of opening arguments, the extradition case is due to break until May, when the two sides will lay out their evidence. The judge is not expected to rule until several months after that, with the losing side likely to appeal. If the courts approve extradition, the British government will have the final say.