Assange ‘suicide risk’ if extradited, lawyer warns
Julian Assange would be a suicide risk if extradited to the United States for an effective life sentence, his lawyer claims.
In the first detail of his medical condition, Edward Fitzgerald, QC, for Assange claimed that his client had serious mental health problems.
He said that Assange had "exposed corruption" and argued that he was being targeted by US president Donald Trump's war on the media.
Assange is fighting to stay in the UK as the United States tries to get him to face court there on spying charges and a computer hacking charge that carry a 175-year maximum sentence.
Mr Fitzgerald urged District Court Judge Vanessa Baraister to reject the United States' bid, arguing it was "a clear violation of his right to political expression."
"It would be unjust and oppressive to extradite him by reason of his mental condition and the high risk of suicide," he said.
He also made the point that the United States did not charge Assange in 2013 as details about Chelsea Manning's leaking had come out.
But charges were laid against Assange in 2017.
"President Trump came into power with a new approach to freedom of speech and a new hostility to the press," Mr Fitzgerald said.
"(The) Trump administration set about punishing whistleblowers in general … (and) dramatically escalated the number of investigations into journalist leaks.
"He was the obvious symbol of all that Trump condemned."
Mr Fitzgerald argued that the threat of a long sentence was often used as a tactic to encourage accused persons to plead guilty to get less jail time.
Earlier, Julian Assange had made an extraordinary intervention during his extradition case in the UK, asking a judge to get his supporters outside the court to stop chanting and shouting.
The 48-year-old stopped proceedings to ask District Judge Vanessa Baraitser to stop them supporting him.
The chants were so loud in the courtroom that it was difficult to hear the lawyers argue the case.
Assange, who is behind glass at least 5cm thick, was also struggling to follow proceedings.
The protesters have been singing and chanting all day and playing a police siren outside the court.
"It's about the. I'm having difficulty concentrating," Assange said.
"I'm very appreciative of the public support. They must be disgusted."
Judge Baraitser did not appreciate Assange's intervention, after he had previously spoken out of turn at an earlier case.
"It's very unusual. Generally I don't hear from people in this kind of context," she said.
Judge Baraitser said he should speak with his lawyer instead of directly standing up in court when he was not a witness.
Assange had been blinking several times before the lunch break and looked to be uncomfortable.
He sat at the back of the court for the first day of the hearing, which is likely to take several months, with his glasses on his head.
There have been significant problems with the audio in the court, with Assange's lawyer required to put his microphone on two cardboard boxes so the microphone could pick up his voice.
Judge Baraitser had asked Assange if he could hear and he replied: "It's a little quiet."
ASSANGE'S BIN LADEN CONNECTION
Osama bin Laden tried to get access to information published by WikiLeaks, an extradition hearing for Julian Assange in London has heard.
James Lewis, QC, has outlined the case for the United States' bid to extradite Assange from the UK in London's Woolwich Crown Court.
Mr Lewis said that the United States had found evidence that bin Laden wanted to use WikiLeaks documents when they raided the 9/11 terrorist's compound.
He said armed forces found "a letter from bin Laden asking to gather the information published by Wikileaks."
"The information published by Assange was useful to an enemy of the state of America," he said.
Mr Lewis sought to undermine Assange's claim he was acting as a journalist.
The 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer hacking carry a maximum sentence of 175 years' jail.
Mr Lewis said Assange, 48, had not been acting as a journalist or in the interests of free speech.
"He seeks to defend the publication of the names of sources, the names of people who put themselves at risk," Mr Lewis said.
"It is inconceivable that any member of the press" would identify sources, he added.
And he rejected claims of the "hyperbole" of his potential 175-year sentence, saying that there was the chance that some of the sentences, if he was convicted would be served concurrently.
Assange has avoided court for 2,806 days after he sought asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012.
He has spent almost a year in Belmarsh prison after being arrested in April last year for breaching bail when the Ecuadorean government co-operated with British police.
The charges relate to the release of thousands of US documents through his WikiLeaks' website in 2010 and 2011.
Assange was wearing a grey suit, and grey jumper over a white shirt, he spoke to confirm his name and date of birth at the crown court, which is acting as a magistrates court in front of District Judge Vanessa Baraitser.
He flicked through a folder of court documents as the case against him was laid out and leaned back in his chair, flanked by security guards on his left and right.
Hundreds of protesters chanted "free Julian Assange" outside court, with one protester dressed as Jesus Christ and carrying a makeshift cross.
There was heavy security at the court, with media from across the world covering the case.
Assange was accused of trying to help US soldier Chelsea Manning to break a password to access a US government computer.
That charge came after Manning had already provided hundreds of thousands of documents to Wikileaks.
Mr Lewis cited The Guardian and the New York Times magazine who had editorialised against the publications of unredacted documents.
"Mr Assange was charged for publishing unredacted documents. He was not for example charged for the so called collateral murder video that Wikileaks disclosed in April 2010," Mr Lewis said.
He said that Assange had tried to defend as free speech and journalism the disclosure of human sources.
"The names of sources, the names of people who have put themselves at risk to support the United States and its allies," he said.
WikiLeaks had publicly sought leaked information from insiders on its website with a list of "most wanted leaks".
Mr Lewis said there was no evidence that sources had been harmed because most had been warned or moved once their names had become public.
The case will continue for the remainder of this week, and three further weeks in May.
Earlier, Assange's father, John Shipton, demanded his son be released on bail.
"For the life of me I can't understand why Julian Assange is in jail having committed no crime, with family here that he can come and live with," he said.
"Bail ought to be given immediately if the extradition order isn't dropped.
"Julian had a harassment today. He goes to court tomorrow. They searched his cell this afternoon just before he came down to see us.
"This plague of malice that emanates from the Crown Prosecution Service to Julian Assange must stop immediately."
The case of British teenager Harry Dunn, who was allegedly killed by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US spy in a traffic incident in the UK, may give Assange some hope.
Mr Dunn's family want the UK to prevent Assange being extradited to the US, even if they win the case, unless Mrs Sacoolas is deported from America to the UK.
Dunn family spokesman Radd Seiger accused the US of "hypocrisy" in seeking Assange's extradition, despite rejecting the return of Mrs Sacoolas.
Mrs Sacoolas fled to the US and was granted immunity from prosecution, despite being charged with dangerous driving causing death over her role in the traffic incident near a US base on UK soil.
She was driving on the wrong side of the road at the time of the crashing into Mr Dunn's motorcycle.
Mr Dunn's mother Charlotte Charles, and father Tim Dunn, have met with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab about their son's case.
Mr Seiger said the family was angry the US has rejected the UK request to extradite Mrs Sacoolas to the UK.
"The principle of reciprocity is at the core of any extradition treaty. Despite its disgraceful refusal to extradite Anne Sacoolas, the US continues to seek the extradition of people in the UK such as Julian Assange," he said.
"In doing so, they are demonstrating an extraordinary amount of hypocrisy and the double standards on display are unprecedented.
"The US needs to be brought firmly back into line on the international stage and be made to understand that they are not going to have their way."