As James Lewis QC for the prosecution, representing the US government, revealed, “I’m just saying about my charger. It’s in court and I’m going to run out of battery.” It was one of those moments that said much about the fourth day of proceedings at the Old Bailey regarding one Julian Assange, publisher, Australian national and wanted by the US Department of Justice for incongruous charges of espionage.
It all had the appropriate Orwellian shades and show trial trimmings. The US prosecution team had gone remote; Assange’s legal team was physically present and masked. Technology again did its bedevilling magic at the Central Criminal Court. At one point, Joel Smith for the prosecution was attempting to get the attention of Judge Vanessa Baraitser to inform her that nothing could be heard in the court room. The screen of chief prosecutor Lewis had also frozen.
Unlike the previous three days of these extradition proceedings, the central contentions were not Assange the public interest journalist, the discloser of informant names, or President Donald J. Trump’s war on the Fourth Estate. It was the revelation that COVID-19 had found its way into the Old Bailey. On Wednesday night, Judge Baraitser was told that a member of one of the legal teams may have been exposed to the coronavirus. As was announced on Court News,
“Julian Assange’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey today will not be going ahead because the husband of one of the US lawyers has come down with COVID-like symptoms. Once he gets the result of a test the judge will determine how best to proceed.”
Assange would have had reason to reflect upon this moment with bitter mockery. His conditions in Her Majesty’s Belmarsh Prison have been a picture of shoddy treatment, both physically and symbolically. Access to his legal team has been scandalously scant, exacerbated by pandemic lockdown conditions. The entire institutional treatment of the Australian has been considered nothing less than that of a tortured figure, “shocking and excessive”, to use the words of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. His supporters, fearful, see him at risk of contracting coronavirus and suffering, in his frail state, the gruelling effects of COVID-19.
His efforts to seek bail in order to escape the dangers of viral transmission have been foiled by the pitiless Baraitser.