FILE PHOTO: Baltasar Garzan, a lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrived in Madrid, Spain on July 27, 2020 to testify in Spanish High Court about Assange’s alleged espionage. REUTERS (Javier Barbancho
US officials accused the 49-year-old Australian-born Assange of conspiring to hack government computers and violating a espionage law in connection with the release of confidential cables by WikiLeaks in 2010–2011.
Assange sees his admirers as champions of free speech that exposed American abuse of power. His critics say that by publishing unproven documents, he risked the lives of intelligence sources in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
He has drawn more attention to documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee released by WikiLeaks during the 2016 US presidential election campaign. He denied allegations by US investigators that WikiLeaks obtained those documents from Russian hackers. The issue is not part of the legal proceedings.
Assange made headlines internationally in 2010 when WikiLeaks published a US military video of an attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad in 2007 that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news workers. The site later published huge pieces of US military records and diplomatic cables.
His legal team in London argues that the US charges against him are political and a threat to freedom of the press. He has also said that if he is sent to the United States, he will be a suicidal risk, where he could face up to years in prison.
Lawyers applied for bail for him in March, arguing that he was unsafe for coronovirus. But the court ordered him to be held citing a high risk.
Assange’s legal action in Britain since 2010 began when he attempted to extradite him to Sweden to answer questions about sexual harassment allegations, which have since been dropped. In June 2012, facing imminent extradition, he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
He spent seven years there. His partner Stella Morris revealed this year that she had given birth to two children while living inside the embassy.
When he was out with his hosts and Ecuador revoked his asylum, he was pulled out of the embassy in April 2019 and given a short British prison sentence for violating bail conditions.
He is jailed pending the outcome of the US extradition request. The hearing took place in February and was due to resume in May, but was postponed due to a lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The court will now hear from witnesses on the elements of his defense: the case is politically motivated, that his mental health is at risk, conditions in US prisons break UK human rights laws, and he and his lawyers embassy while spying Was in
Assange was present at the February hearing and is expected to appear in court again on Monday.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Guy Foulcobridge and Peter Graff