Assange Extradition Hearing 2020: Day One

SEPTEMBER 7, 2020 (Day One)

Hearing Details

According to reports, before the remainder of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing resumed today, Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, spoke with him and found that he was “not well.” She said that the prison woke him up at 5 a.m. and then handcuffed and strip-searched him—the entire ordeal Assange must go through to get to court apparently takes up to five hours in what is likely yet another psychological game being used against the publisher.

  • After arriving at the Old Bailey in an unmarked white van, Assange was seen in the court room wearing a suit and tie, and separated from his attorneys inside a glass box like a U.S. war criminal. I’m kidding, U.S. war criminals aren’t prosecuted.
  • Investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi thought Assange had lost more weight.
  • About ten people (I also heard 18?) fit inside the tiny courtroom and according to some reports the room was stifling.
  • Reportedly some of Assange’s defense team were sitting in a separate annex participating via the video stream.

Access to Proceedings

These legal proceedings are a complete sham. We know it, Judge Vanessa Baraitser knows it, and she knows that we know it. A perfect example is the U.K. government trying to desperately shut down access to today’s hearing in order to keep a lid on how unjust these proceedings are:

  • WikiLeaks Editor in Chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson, was denied a seat in the courtroom
  • Over 40 previously approved journalists and organizations were banned from the live feed this morning including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders
  • Parliamentarians were banned as well
  • Amnesty International had permission to remotely view the proceedings but those permissions were revoked at the last minute
  • Early in the proceedings, Judge Baraitser warned the gallery that if any photographs were leaked gasp! she would consider shutting down the video feed entirely

Baraitser explained that “numerous people received [the] right to view the hearing via video link in error,” which is beyond sketchy and weird but this isn’t anything new for these proceedings or the U.K. government. Just yesterday, The Independent published a story about how the U.K. had been “formally warned for threatening freedom after it blacklisted a group of investigative journalists” and that the Council of Europe issued a “Level 2 ‘media freedom alert'” after the Ministry of Defence press officers had blacklisted media outlet Declassified UK.

Start of Hearing

  • Assange hasn’t seen his attorneys in six months
  • Assange was asked if he consented to being extradited, he obviously said “No”
  • The U.S. withdrew the original arrest warrant against Assange and confirmed that he had been re-arrested on a new warrant
  • Assange wasn’t able to read the new warrant since it was just served on him this morning
  • Both the defense and prosecution declined to do another opening statement
  • Before going over “housekeeping issues,” Baraitser said she would reconsider Assange’s remand status at the end of the day which of course never happened because the hearing was cut short due to technical problems

Expert Witnesses and Witness Summaries

So basically it sounds like Baraitser didn’t want any witnesses giving a summary of their statements and at one point she apparently used the excuse that she had already read them because that’s what important in this case.

  • Assange’s attorney, Edward Fitzgerald, argued that Assange had not read or heard the summaries yet and that it would be in the interest of justice and “for the wider public to understand” to have the witnesses go over them
  • At some point, James Lewis QC for the U.S. government objected, noting that some of the witnesses the defense called “experts” were not in fact experts in the legal sense
  • Since this was the first time the US government had challenged Assange’s defense witnesses, Fitzgerald said that he was not prepared to respond

Ruling

After making sure that everyone knew what a waste of time it was for her to go over the summaries, Baraitser—out of the goodness of her evil, little black heart—ruled that witnesses would be given thirty minutes but “in some cases considerably less.” Witness statements will be made public and Assange will be given a copy.

After her ruling Baraitser granted Assange’s attorneys a 1-hour meeting to meet with their client.

Original Indictment vs. New Indictment

Assange’s defense team argued against the new allegations in the U.S. government’s latest indictment (which was filed this summer) stating that they didn’t have time to prepare for it. They actually learned about it from a press release.

Defense:

  • Defense attorney Mark Summers QC argued they’ve had no time to meet with Assange or prepare
  • Summers: It would be unfair to bring a new extradition request 6 weeks before the hearing starts
  • Summers: Sources for many of the new allegations come from an “Icelandic teen” who was convicted of fraud (Siggi Thordarson who was also convicted of pedophilia and become an informant for the FBI)
  • Summers: They don’t want to delay the case, just restrict the extradition hearing to the original indictment (“excise” new parts of the indictment)
  • Summers: “What’s happening here is wrong, unfair, and not in the interests of justice…”

US Government

  • Counsel for the US government: New charges were served on the defense in July 2020, but they never received a response
  • Counsel: The court has to consider “all offences put before it” and cannot “take a knife” to the evidence
  • So like, can the U.S. government show up tomorrow with even more evidence? Absurd.

Defense Back Up

  • Summers: Several of the new charges don’t fall under dual criminality (Extradition treaty requires that U.S. charges must also be a crime under U.K. law)
  • Summers: “Mr Smith’s argument is ‘ha, ha ha, we can do what we want and you can’t do anything about it,’  that is wrong.”
  • Investigative journalist Stefania Mauriza: “JA’s defence argues that the conduct alleged in the new superseding indictment and related to the Sabu case ( hacking etc) should be just cut out without prior consideration and just continue to charge JA for the charges related to Manning. US counsel opposes this.”

Ruling

Denied. The new indictment and allegations stand. Baraitser told Assange’s defense team that when she previously offered to postpone the hearing so they could look over the allegations and prepare, they should have taken her up on the offer.

Adjournment

After a lunch break the defense was given another 30 minutes to discuss Baraitser’s ruling with Assange. When court reconvened, they requested that the hearing be postponed until January 2021 so they could prepare for the charges in the new indictment.

  • Defense attorneys argued Assange hasn’t seen the new allegations
  • Counsel for the U.S. government argued that the defense only wanted a postponement because they lost the “excise” argument earlier, adding “We are here and ready to go.”

Ruling

Denied. Lecture time again from Baraitser. She told the defense that they had been offered a postponement previously and that they didn’t take it. She added that they could have also asked for one in the morning but, again, they didn’t so the request was denied.

First Witness and Technical Difficulties

The first witness called in the hearing was Professor Mark Feldstein via video link and his first words were “I’m having trouble hearing you” because seriously the U.K. court system really is a dumpster fire. Someone got the link fixed for a brief moment during which time Feldstein basically said that leaks are published all of the time and that he wouldn’t expect a publisher or journalist to be prosecuted for it. Whistleblowers or leakers, yes, but journalist and publishers, no. At that point the video cut out again, apparently no one could fix it, and Baraitser called it the day.

Interviews

Attorney Jennifer Robinson (Assange): HERE

Stella Moris: HERE

John Shipton: HERE and HERE and HERE (1:25 mark)

Kristinn Hrafnsson: HERE (2:24 mark) and HERE. See also HERE and HERE (denied entry)

Craig Murray: HERE

John Pilger speech: HERE

Reporters Without Borders: HERE

Documents

Defense Skeleton Arguments HERE and HERE

Defense Witness #1 Statement: Professor Mark Feldstein HERE and HERE

Bridges for Media Freedom Court Summary HERE and HERE

Twitter Users and Articles

  • The Twitter users I followed today that I want to give a special thanks to for covering the hearing (or for their postings) that were used as source material include @WikiLeaks @SMaurizi, @auerfeld, @MElmaazi, @jamesdoleman, @DanielAlling, and @jlpassarelli
  • “Julian Assange Lays Out His Case Against Extradition” (“The argument hinges in part on psychiatrists’ testimony that Assange is a high suicide risk.”). WIRED
  • “‘Absolutely Ludicrous’: Diplomat Reacts to Decision in Assange Case Disallowing Witness Summaries.” Mohamed Elmaazi via Sputnik
  • “As British Show-Trial Resumes: The Working Class Must Defend Julian Assange!” Oscar Grenfell via World Socialist Web Site
  • “Judge Railroads Assange as Legal Team Objects to Fresh Extradition Request.” Kevin Gosztola via Shadowproof

Of Interest

  • Reporters Without Borders were not only denied video access, they tried to deliver a petition today with over 80,000 signatures in support of Assange to 10 Downing Street but they refused to accept it
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