“I have never in my career faced so much difficulty attempting to trial monitor as in Julian Assange’s case.” — Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns for Reporters Without Borders.
There were bizarre scenes at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London today, as the extradition process of Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange (present via videophone from Belmarsh prison) was again delayed.
Proceedings were held up this morning so Assange could converse for the first time in five months with his legal team. The prosecution team failed to turn up at the hearing because they were told events started at 3:30 p.m. Only five members of the press were allowed to enter the courtroom to monitor proceedings. Other journalists, observers, and NGOs attempting to listen via telephone could not, as they were given the number to another courtroom. One journalist who did make it inside claimed that the judge, Vanessa Baraitser, was, “clearly reading from a pre-written ruling.”
Assange sat in a conference room used by the entire prison, without a mask, and was seen coughing a number of times. At one point, proceedings in the courtroom were interrupted by screaming coming from another booth in Belmarsh prison, loud enough to cause a delay. Present at the hearing, Assange’s mother, Christine, warned that he would not survive extradition to the United States.
Perhaps most bizarre, however, is that the United States Department of Justice dropped its original indictment in June, just two days after Assange’s defense team submitted their full and final evidence for the extradition hearing. Today was the first time Assange saw the charges against him. Yet they are almost identical to those previously issued, save for slightly broadening the scope to include some interactions with hacking groups in 2011. The U.S. D.O.J. itself admitted that their new indictment “does not add additional counts to the prior 18-count superseding indictment returned against Assange in May 2019,” leading Wikileaks to allege that the U.S. is attempting to string the process along until after the November election, in order to avoid any negative consequences for the Trump administration.
“This was the worst hearing so far,” said Kristinn Hrafnsson,