As Assange Hearing Continues, Civil Rights Organizations Barred

After a delay in the proceedings due to an exposure of COVID-19, civil rights organizations were denied access to the hearings.

Earlier this month, we reported about a postponing of the hearings because one of the US prosecutors had potentially been exposed to COVID-19. Under normal circumstances, that should have been sufficient to delay the proceedings or, at the very least, find an alternate accommodation to address the possible exposure to the disease that caused global shutdowns.

In this case, Julian Assange has been languishing in what many call unjustified conditions where he was forced to be in solitary confinement. During those many long months, Assange’s health deteriorated to the point where health experts feared he would die in prison before the hearings. He was denied access to medical doctors at times.

Fortunately, Assange was able to survive the experience and make it to his hearings alive. His health is, no doubt, weakened, but the possible exposure certainly raised many very valid concerns about the safety of everyone in the room. So, the postponing was most certainly justified.

Now the case appears to be continuing. From Global talking about the previous attempt to adjourn the case:

The judge rejected his lawyers’ application for the case to be adjourned until January to allow them more time to consider new U.S. accusations.

“We’re simply not in a position to gather the evidence necessary and respond to the case that has only emerged in the last few weeks,” Assange‘s lawyer Mark Summers said.

So, it appears that defense lawyers are basically being denied the right to fully prepare for the trial in the first place. While this is certainly cause for concern for those who believe in journalism and free speech, there has been another development. Reports are surfacing that civil rights organizations are being barred from overseeing the hearings. From Common Dreams:

Amnesty International had requested access to the court for a trial monitor to observe the hearings, but the court denied us a designated seat in court. Our monitor initially did get permission to access the technology to monitor remotely, but the morning the hearing started he received an email informing us that the Judge had revoked Amnesty International’s remote access.

We applied again for access to the proceedings on Tuesday 8 September, setting out the importance of monitoring and Amnesty International’s vast experience of observing trials in even some of the most repressive countries.

The judge wrote back expressing her “regret” at her decision and saying: “I fully recognise that justice should be administered in public”. Despite her regret and her recognition that scrutiny is a vital component of open justice, the judge did not change her mind.

If Amnesty International and other observers wanted to attend the hearing, they would have to queue for one of the four seats available in a public gallery. We submitted a third application to gain direct access to the overflow room at the court where some media view the livestream, but this has also been denied.

So, obviously, the court seems more intent on ensuring that the proceedings be held in as much of a veil of secrecy as possible. There really is no reason why civil rights organizations should be denied all access to the hearings unless it is because the judge feels that there is something to hide.

Some have actively wondered where some of the most famous whistleblowers have been throughout all of this. It appears that they, too, are voicing their concerns about the Assange hearing. Daniel Ellsberg, famous for being the whistleblower that brought the Pentagon Papers to light, is saying that what is happening to Assange represents a threat to press freedom. From Democracy Now:

Legendary Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in London could have far-reaching consequences for press freedoms. The WikiLeaks founder faces an ever-evolving array of espionage and hacking charges related to the release of diplomatic cables that revealed war crimes committed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assange faces almost certain conviction, if extradited, and 175 years in prison. “The American press has remained in kind of a state of denial for 40 years, really, since my case, that the Espionage Act has wording in it that could be aimed directly at them,” says Ellsberg, who testified in Assange’s defense at his extradition trial via video stream from the United States. “Now the American press is staring right down the barrel at the use of the Espionage Act against American journalists and publishers for doing journalism.”

The link contains a full video and transcript of the interview with Ellsberg.

Already, there are a lot of questionable things that have happened throughout all of this. There’s the political maneuvering by the US to topple a government in an effort to get Ecuador to relinquish Assange’s political asylum. There is the forcible removal of Assange himself from the embassy. After that, there is the 50 week prison sentence for the comparatively trivial crime of skipping bail (many point out that the length of the sentence exceeded the courts authority).

On top of that, there is the alleged abuse Assange faced while in prison, the denial of health experts, the denial of access to legal council, and the fact that Assange was placed in solitary confinement. Then, there is the out of the blue charges using the Espionage Act against Assange – a move that the Electronic Frontier Foundation called an attack on journalism. Now, we are seeing the barring of civil rights organizations like Amnesty International from simply listening in on the hearings.

So much about this case so far raises serious concerns about due process. As major news outlets continue to ignore these points, they also undermine their own credibility as neutral sources of information as well. Specifically, they look like mere stooges to the American government and willing to go to bat for them regardless of whether or not what is happening is wrong. Already, many outlets payed up a number of fake stories such as the story about Assange smearing feces on the wall. A number of outlets also played up the now discredited Swedish sexual assault story. Then there is the talking point that said that exposing US government corruption also cost American lives. We have yet to see any evidence of this outside of the US government itself making this vague claim.

With so many questionable things happening, it’s little wonder why many of Assange’s supporters are practically conceding he will lose the extradition case. Many have already written this case off as a sham trial with a predetermined outcome. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and watch for developments as they unfold.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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