Attorney General William Barr issued a replacement extradition request just two days after Julian Assange’s defence team submitted their full and final evidence for the extradition hearing due in September, Westminster Magistrates court heard today (Friday 14th August).
The clear attempt to blindside the defence by US Attorney General William Barr emerged as the court heard Julian Assange has not even seen the warmed-over extradition request, which contains no new charges but introduces new narrative content that the defence argued should be excluded from the proceedings.
The defence argued the replacement indictment introduced alleged conduct from 2010 and 2011 which the US had investigated almost a decade ago, and could therefore not plausibly be argued to be new information to the US investigation.
The defence considered the move by the prosecution to bring in the replacement extradition request at the eleventh hour “astonishing”, given the case had been prepared over the course of one year and was well into substantive hearings which began in February.
The defence was given a week to decide whether to ask for the September hearing to be adjourned, or to proceed as planned on 7 September.
And that was only part of the chaotic hearing in which Belmarsh prison did not initially bring Assange to the video room to join proceedings, the US prosecution failed to turn up (having got the time of the hearing wrong), and every journalist and NGO observer that tried to dial-in was directed to another trial entirely and never made it into the Assange hearing.
That left a mere of handful of journalists that could gain access to the court to report proceedings.
‘This was the worst hearing so far’, said Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-chief . ‘The US government seem to want to change the indictment every time the court meet, but without the defence or Julian himself seeing the relevant documents’.
Even now Julian Assange has not been re-arrested under the replacement extradition request. Instead the re-arrest will take place on the first day of the hearings.
The reissued request appears to serve a PR purpose since it contains no new charges though still threatens Assange with 175 years in jail.
Julian Assange’s legal team have been denied in-person access to their client since March. Today was the first day Julian Assange was able to have a short video link meeting with his lawyers, prior to the hearing. Belmarsh prison denied Assange any facilities to talk to his lawyers after the hearing ended.
Julian Assange has not seen his family and young children since March.
Julian Assange’s extradition hearing is due to re-start on 7 September 2020 at the Old Bailey and is anticipated to last for at least three weeks.
Julian Assange is charged by the US administration for publications exposing war crimes and human rights abuses for which he faces a 175 years sentence.
Julian Assange’s lawyers have experienced a considerable difficulty communicating with their client. Speaking at a recent hearing, Edward Fitzgerald QC, said ‘We’ve had great difficulties in getting into Belmarsh to take instructions from Mr Assange and to discuss the evidence with him.’ Mr Fitzgerald continued: ‘We simply cannot get in as we require to see Mr Assange and to take his instruction.’
The UN working group on arbitrary detention issued a statement saying that “the right of Mr. Assange to personal liberty should be restored”.
Massimo Moratti of Amnesty International has publicly stated on their website that, “Were Julian Assange to be extradited or subjected to any other transfer to the USA, Britain would be in breach of its obligations under international law.”
Human Rights Watch published an article saying, “The only thing standing between an Assange prosecution and a major threat to global media freedom is Britain. It is urgent that it defend the principles at risk.”
The NUJ has stated “US charges against Assange pose a huge threat, one that could criminalise the critical work of investigative journalists & their ability to protect their sources”.