WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told a London court on Thursday that he doesn’t want “to surrender to America” as he fights extradition over the leak of national security information.
Appearing via video-link from the high-security Belmarsh prison, Assange said he wouldn’t agree to go to the US to face charges. American authorities are pursuing extradition so he can face trial on accusations that he conspired with ex-US army analyst Chelsea Manning to illegally download classified government material.
“I do not wish to surrender to America for doing journalism, which has won many awards and affected many people,” Assange said.
The case was postponed for a brief procedural hearing on 30 May, before a more substantial hearing on 12 June, by which time the US is likely to have laid its formal legal documents.
“The charge relates to one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of US,” Ben Brandon, a lawyer representing American authorities, said.
It’s the second court appearance in less than 48 hours for Assange, who was sentenced on Wednesday to almost a year in jail for skipping bail in another extradition case from accusations in Sweden.
Assange was given asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 before a hearing in the Swedish sexual assault case. Those charges were dropped in 2017, but Assange remained in a small apartment in the embassy until a change in Ecuadorian leadership — and his vocal criticism of the country and continued leaking of documents — led the embassy to allow police in to arrest him on 11 April on the UK charges over skipping bail.
According to the US indictment, Assange assisted Manning in “hacking a password stored on United States department of defence computers”. WikiLeaks published the cables starting in 2010, followed by other documents taken by Manning.
The indictment didn’t address a more recent episode involving Assange’s WikiLeaks — its publication of waves of e-mails that embarrassed Democrats during the 2016 presidential election, a trove that US prosecutors have said were stolen during a Russian intelligence operation.
“The full extradition hearing I suspect is still many months away,” district judge Michael Snow said at Thursday’s hearing.
Officials in Sweden haven’t completely given up either. Following Assange’s arrest, a lawyer for one victim asked the Swedish prosecutor to re-open the investigation. The arrest, prosecutors said last month, was “news to us, too”.
If Sweden does choose to seek Assange, UK home secretary Sajid Javid would decide which request to address first. He would have to weigh factors including the seriousness of the offences and the date each warrant was issued, according to UK extradition law. — Reported by Jonathan Browning, (c) 2019 Bloomberg LP