The WikiLeaks founder appeared via video link in Westminster Magistrates Court for the first hearing in what could be a lengthy process in the US request for extradition.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
Julian Assange had his first day in court on Thursday in his fight against extradition to the United States in an historic press freedom case that could have a profound impact on the future of journalism.
Dressed in jeans, a dark jacket and a T-shirt, Assange appeared on a video screen inside a cramped courtroom in Westminster Magistrates Court in London. “I won’t surrender to the U.S. for doing journalism that has won many awards and protected lives,” Assange told the court, according to a tweet from a USA Today correspondent.
Assange was arrested on April 11 after Ecuador lifted his political asylum at its embassy in London where Assange had lived since June 2012. On that day the U.S. unsealed an indictment against the publisher for conspiring with WikiLeaks’ source Chelsea Manning to crack a password needed to hide Manning’s identity. Protecting a source is a routine part of investigative journalism.
Watch the replay of a Special Extradition Vigil for Assange webcast Thursday on Consortium News.
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The U.S. also filed a request that day to the British government to extradite Assange to face the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Thursday was Assange’s first appearance in the extradition case before Judge Michael Snow.
A large group of Assange supporters gathered outside the courthouse as well as inside Court Three, where many sat on the floor for the 10-minute hearing, the Daily Express in London reported. Many reporters and supporters were unable to gain entry after the hearing was moved to the smaller courtroom from Court One.
A further procedural hearing was scheduled for May 30, and a substantive court date was set for June 12. On that day the U.S. faces a deadline to reveal any further charges against Assange for which the British courts must base their extradition decision. The court was told resolution of the case was still months away, the Express reported.
The U.S. is weighing charging Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act for unauthorized possession and dissemination of classified material. It would be the first time the Act would be used to prosecute a journalist for receiving and publishing secret information. “It is not just a man who stands in jeopardy, but the future of the free press,” NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said in a message to a pro-Assange rally in Berlin on Wednesday.
Assange is serving an 11-month sentence for skipping bail imposed on him on Tuesday connected to a Swedish investigation of sexual abuse allegations that was dropped in 2017. “Julian Assange‘s sentence is as shocking as it is vindictive,” WikiLeaks tweeted. “We have grave concerns as to whether he will receive a fair extradition hearing in the UK.”
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