WikiLeaks founder resists US extradition in court | News Coverage from USA

WikiLeaks founder resists US extradition in court

LONDON – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, appearing before a British court Thursday, said he does not want to surrender to a U.S. extradition request as he defended his efforts to steal American government records as journalism.

“I do not, not for doing journalism that has protected many people and won many awards,” he said by video from a British prison, where he looked relaxed, dressed in jeans, a white T-shirt and a dark blazer.

The Thursday hearing was the first for the case. U.S. authorities are seeking Assange’s extradition because the Department of Justice has charged him with conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer system to reveal government secrets.

The court on Thursday scheduled a hearing date for May 30 with another set for June 12. 

The ruling comes one day after a separate British court sentenced Assange to 50 weeks in a British prison for skipping bail seven years ago and seeking refuge in Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Assange apologized to the court and said he was “struggling with terrifying circumstances” when he decided to hole up in the embassy. 

When he arrived at Southwark Crown Court in a prison van on Wednesday, Assange raised a clenched fist, a gesture he repeated as he left the court to be returned to prison.

He wore a black blazer and his white hair and long beard were trimmed, a marked contrast to his disheveled appearance when he was carried out head-first of Ecuador’s embassy on April 11, looking frail and disoriented, by British police. 

The U.S. alleges that Assange, who is known for his exceptional computer hacking skills, assisted Chelsea Manning, then a soldier in the U.S. Army, in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers. WikiLeaks subsequently published thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables and images, including video footage allegedly showing U.S. soldiers killing civilians in Iraq.

Manning served nearly seven years of a 35-year sentence for theft and espionage for helping to deliver classified documents to WikiLeaks. Manning’s sentence was later commuted by former President Barack Obama and she was released in 2017. 

Assange faces up to five years in a U.S. prison if convicted of conspiracy charges in connection with one of the largest leaks of U.S. classified information in history.

Journalist or criminal?Julian Assange notorious for leaks of US secrets

Assange was arrested last month inside the Ecuadorian embassy after the South American country revoked his political asylum. The 47-year-old Australian had sought asylum in the embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations. 

At the time, Assange’s legal team believed that if he were extradited to Sweden he would subsequently be extradited onward from the Scandinavian nation to the U.S. 

Assange denies the rape and sexual assault allegations, which were dropped because his residence in Ecuador’s embassy stymied the investigation, and because the statute of limitations expired. Swedish prosecutors have indicated that they are considering a request from one of Assange’s alleged victims to re-open the rape probe. 

If that happens, Assange could face a competing new claim for extradition to Sweden. 

Anand Doobay, a London-based lawyer who specializes in extradition law, said that Assange’s case is now further complicated by his 50-week sentence. He said that extradition cases can take “a very long time” and that the decision may ultimately reside with Britain’s secretary of state, who will need to be satisfied that Assange would not face the death penalty in the U.S. or be charged with additional crimes. 

He said that if Sweden decided to renew its request for extradition based on the rape probe the secretary of state would also need to decide which request to favor.  

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