News World UK judge rejects Assange hearing delay bid

UK judge rejects Assange hearing delay bid

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Julian Assange will have to front court in less than a week after a British judge refused to adjourn his extradition hearing.

The WikiLeaks founder’s lawyer, Mark Summers, argued for more time to enable their legal team to respond to an indictment announced by the US Justice Department in June.

The indictment did not introduce new charges but added claims that Assange recruited hackers at conferences in Europe and Asia to obtain classified information, and conspired with members of hacking groups known as LulzSec and Anonymous.

Mr Summers said it was “an impossible task” for the legal team to deal with the new allegations in time for Monday’s court hearing, especially since they had only “limited access” to the imprisoned Assange.

He said District Judge Vanessa Baraitser should excise the new claims, which he said were sprung on the defence “out of the blue” and “in desperation” because US prosecutors “knew that they would lose” with their existing case.

A court sketch of Julian Assange on Monday. Photo: AAP

The judge said no, saying she had offered the defence the chance in August to postpone the hearing, and “they declined to do so”.

Assange’s legal team then asked for the case to be adjourned until January.

Ms Baraitser refused, saying Assange’s lawyers had “ample time” before Monday to make the request, particularly given the case has already been held up for months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The adjournment request on Tuesday morning (Australian time) came on the first day of a London court hearing where Assange is fighting US prosecutors’ attempt to send him to the US to stand trial on spying charges.

Assange, who has spent 16 months in a British prison, sat in the dock at the Old Bailey criminal court and formally refused the US extradition demand.

Several dozen supporters, including fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Assange’s partner Stella Moris gathered outside the courthouse, chanting, banging drums and calling his prosecution a threat to press freedom.

“Julian Assange is the trigger, he is shining the light on all the corruption in the world,” Ms Westwood said.

Supporters of Julian Assange protest outside the Old Bailey as the extradition hearing for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange resumes. Photo: Getty

Assange, who lawyers say has suffered physical and mental ill-health because of his ordeal, spoke clearly to confirm his name and date of birth.

US prosecutors have indicted the 49-year-old Australian on 18 espionage and computer misuse charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US military documents a decade ago.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

Assange’s lawyers say the prosecution is a politically motivated abuse of power that will stifle press freedom and put journalists around the world at risk.

US authorities allege that Assange conspired with US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

-with AAP