The extradition hearing of Julian Assange started yesterday at the Old Bailey in London. The WikiLeaks founder is accused of 18 charges of espionage in the US who are requesting his extradition from the UK where he will face 175 years in prison.
Yesterday’s hearing was evidentiary and a crucial moment in a prolonged struggle that has spanned over 10 years. The proceedings are expected to last until at least early October and were previously delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assange appeared in the dock yesterday and when asked if he gave his consent to be extradited to the US, he replied “no”.’
His lawyers claim the case is politically motivated adding that it’s not possible for Assange to receive a fair trial in the US. He was arrested last year after Ecuador revoked his asylum and kicked him out of their London embassy following his stay of seven years.
The US claims that he conspired with Chelsea Manning to hack a Pentagon computer network and then published secret documents. The documents that were published on WikiLeaks showed evidence of war crimes and wrongdoing by the US government and caused uproar internationally.
On Monday, Mark Feldstein, a professor at the University of Maryland and a former journalist said it was common and normal practice for journalists to publish leaked information. These leaks “shed light on government deceit” and go back as far as George Washington.
Crowds assembled outside the court to protest against the possible extradition of Assange. They criticized the UK for collaborating with the US on a matter that could set a concerning precedent for whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and media freedom.
The British court also rejected a request from Assange’s lawyers to postpone the hearing until January. This request was made after the allegations against him were expanded upon, thus changing the nature of the trial.