LONDON – WikiLeaks founding founder Julian Assange made his first appearance in a London court in months on Monday as a clear hearing in his US extradition case began, a pivotal moment in a lengthy legal proceeding.
At the hearing, Mr. Assange and his lawyers would argue against his extradition on US charges, accusing Mr. Assange of violating the espionage act. The accusation stems from the publication of secret military and diplomatic documents by WikiLeaks in 2010.
The proceedings, which are expected to last until early October, were delayed for months due to an epidemic of coronavirus virus. Mr Assange, 49, last appeared in a court room in London in February.
On Monday, Mr Assange, wearing a clean and a dark suit and a light shirt, appeared in the Central Criminal Court, known as the Old Bailey in Central London. His lawyers said this was the first time he had seen him in person in six months. When asked if he would agree to extradite the United States, Mr. Assange replied, “No.”
His lawyers described the case in court documents as politically motivated, stating that Mr. Assange would not be able to conduct a fair trial in the United States.
Mr. Assange was arrested in London last year when Ecuador abruptly canceled his asylum and drove him out of his embassy after spending seven years in the building.
The US alleges that Mr. Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning, a former military intelligence analyst, to hack into the Pentagon computer network, and then began publishing secret documents.
Ms. Manning was convicted in a court-martial in 2013 of leaking files. Mr. Assange was eventually incited by the United States to violate the Detective Act in 17 states for violating, obtaining, and sometimes publishing publishing material that the U.S. government deemed classified – national Regularly covering all functions covering safety issues.
From the outset, the allegations against Mr. Assange have deepened First Amendment issues because it is difficult to distinguish their actions from the legally meaningful ways of traditional news organizations. It would be unprecedented in US law for such activity to be proven criminal, so advocates for press freedom have denied the charges against them and are watching the case closely.
In June, the Justice Department announced a new indictment against Mr. Assange to withdraw the charges, expanding allegations that he had conspired with members of hacking organizations and programmers to release classified information to WikiLeaks Was sought to recruit. If convicted in all cases, Mr. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison.
During Monday’s hearing, Mr. Assange’s attorney, Mark Summers, called the change “fundamentally unfair”, and cited it as the reason for postponing the hearing until January. But the judge said the hearing would proceed.
On Monday, the defense called its first witness, Mark Feldstein, a professor at the University of Maryland and a former investigative reporter, who appeared by video link.
He testified that the passage of leaked, classified information was common to news organizations in the United States, stating that “some of the nation’s most respected journalists” had made a career out of receiving leaked information.
“Its routine, every government study in the last 60 years has said that it is widespread, and these leaks, they shed light on government decision-making,” Mr. Feldstein said, noting that he exposed “government deceit” . “Go back to George Washington’s presidency.”
Mr. Feldstein also said that US officials had not leveled accusations against the publishers of the leaked information “due to the ongoing fear of an independent press clause in the Constitution.”
Mr. Feldstein’s testimony was short of technical difficulties, so it would continue later in the week, when additional witnesses are expected to be called.
On the street outside the central London court on Monday, dozens of supporters were thronged by drums and waving with messages including “Don’t Extradite Assange” and “Free Assange”.
Vivienne Westwood, a British fashion designer who had long been a vocal supporter of Mr Assange, was also present wearing a football jersey and clats.
“For 10 years, the courts have been playing football with Julian’s head,” Ms. Westwood said. “Sweden and the UK are gaming the law, moving the goal post, holding Julian Assange for 10 years, waiting for the US to work together.”
Mr. Assange’s father, John Shipton, also spoke to reporters outside the court, demanding that the extradition to the United States be blocked.
“The administration of justice is firm here,” he said, criticizing Britain for cooperating in the US extradition effort. “We insist on fair administration of the law, and we insist that our national borders be respected, and that Julian will be saved.”
Charlie Savage contributed reporting from Washington.