Julian Assange Trial Postponed Due to Possible COVID-19 Exposure

The trial of award winning journalist, Julian Assange, is going to extend even further. This is thanks to possible COVID-19 exposure.

It’s a trial that has dragged on for years. Now, it is going to drag on even further. Earlier this week, lawyers representing Julian Assange were unsuccessful in adjourning the case. From the Guardian at the time:

Lawyers for Julian Assange have failed to adjourn the extradition case against him after objecting to newly introduced US prosecution evidence accusing him of recruiting hackers to steal military secrets.

On the opening day of a four-week hearing, the WikiLeaks founder appeared at the Old Bailey to resist an application to send him to the US to answer an 18-count American indictment.

Mark Summers QC, for Assange, said the late serving of the new US indictment was “abnormal, unfair and liable to create real injustice”.

The additional material had appeared out of the blue, Summers said. It presented extra allegations of criminality which it claimed on their own might be separate grounds for extradition, such as stealing data from banks, obtaining information on tracking police vehicles, and supposedly “assisting a whistleblower [Edward Snowden] in Hong Kong”.

“This is essentially a fresh extradition request,” Summers added, presented at short notice at a time when Assange has been “inhibited” from speaking to his defence lawyers.

Summers said: “We believe the US saw the strength of the defence case and thought they would lose [and so introduced the additional material].” He asked the judge to “excise” or dismiss the belated extra US indictments.

The indictment by the US has already raised alarms among digital rights advocates. This is because the Espionage Act has never been used to prosecute journalists before. While the laws could have been used against other journalists in the past, it never has been. All that changed with the indictment. The Electronic Frontier Foundation blasted the move as being an assault on journalism.

Additionally, the lawyer’s comments that they have been inhibited from speaking with Assange matches earlier reports about Assange being cut off from his lawyers and all visitors. From WSWS late last month:

Julian Assange received his first visitors in six months, less than a fortnight out from British court hearings for the extradition of the persecuted WikiLeaks publisher to the US, where he faces life imprisonment for exposing American war crimes.

Stella Morris, Assange’s partner and an internationally-respected human rights attorney, was allowed to meet with the WikiLeaks founder earlier this week, after authorities at London’s Belmarsh Prison eased restrictions introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It was the first time that Morris and their two young children Gabriel and Max had seen Assange since March 22.

The visit is welcome news for all supporters of Assange and democratic rights. But it has underscored the brutal conditions in which he is held by the British authorities, despite not having been convicted of any crime, and has sparked renewed fears that his health is continuing to deteriorate.

The brutal conditions mentioned include Assange being forced into solitary confinement. Additionally, there are allegations of authorities harassing Assange while in his prison cell.

Back in early May, we reported how Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prisonwhat convicted murderers get. The United Nations called the 50 week sentence disproportionate. Additionally, Reporters Without Borders demanded Assange be released for fears that his health could deteriorate so much that he could die in prison.

Now, a new twist in the extradition hearing where prosecutors are attempting to extradite the Australian citizen to the US: a prosecuting lawyer may have been exposed to COVID-19. From the CBC:

Judge Vanessa Baraitser adjourned the case until Monday after being told one of the lawyers representing the United States might have been exposed to the virus. The lawyer was being tested on Thursday with the result due on Friday, she said.

“At the moment we would respectfully submit we have to go ahead on the assumption that she has COVID,” Edward Fitzgerald, Assange’s lawyer, told London’s Old Bailey court, where the hearings are taking place.

“If that is the correct assumption … we shouldn’t really be here: COVID would be here in the courtroom and it’s not possible to tell how far it’s extended.”

The extradition hearings began for a week in February and were due to resume in May, but were then delayed until this week because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Assange’s lawyers have argued he should be granted bail because he himself is at particular risk from COVID-19 as he has suffered from respiratory infections and has had heart problems.

The trial of Assange is seen by supporters of journalism as an unprecedented attack on journalism. His supporters feel, among other things, that this trial is little more than a political trial rather than an actual trial. Already, there have been plenty of highly questionable developments in the process as it is to put it mildly. At the heart of the story is some of the earlier leaks Assange watched over while working for Wikileaks. This includes the diplomatic cables which exposed massive amounts of corruption being perpetuated by American authorities. Additionally, there are the war diaries which exposed war crimes – the most famous being the “collateral murder” video. Those exposures have embarrasses the US and, ever since, American authorities have been seeking revenge.

Already, there have been plenty of false stories meant to smear Assange’s reputation. This includes the fake story about him smearing feces in the Ecuadorian embassy and how Assange resisted arrest when he was pulled out of the embassy. Video evidence, however, clearly showed Assange not being resistant when authorities forcefully removed him from the embassy.

The overarching concern in all of this is that if Assange is extradited to the US, he would be killed.

For the time being, however, it seems that this case will continue to drag on. Already, the case against Assange has dragged on for the better part of a decade. Now, we will find ourselves continuing to watch for developments as things get delayed even further.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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