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Julian Assange misses court extradition hearing due to ’respiratory problems’

Monday 1 June 2020, by siawi3

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-02/julian-assange-too-ill-to-appear-at-court-for-extradition/12309956

Julian Assange misses court extradition hearing due to ’respiratory problems’

Posted 3hours ago

Photo: Julian Assange gestures as he arrives at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London.
Julian Assange has been held on remand for over 250 days in London’s Belmarsh Prison.(PA: Victoria Jones via AP)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has not been seen in public for more than two months after he missed another call over hearing for health reasons in the UK.

Key points:

Assange is facing extradition to the US to face 17 charges of violating the US Espionage Act and one of conspiring to commit computer intrusion
His defence team said the Australian was suffering from ’respiratory problems for some time’
Assange’s doctors have advised him against going to the video conferencing room in Belmarsh prison

The 48-year-old failed to appear for a routine call over at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on Monday.

Assange is fighting extradition to the US to face 17 charges of violating the US Espionage Act and one of conspiring to commit computer intrusion.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said an email from Belmarsh prison, where the Australian has been held on remand for 253 days, explained that Assange was “refusing to attend the hearing and refusing to sign a refusal form”.

When the judge asked if Assange was “not showing because he is too unwell”, barrister Edward Fitzpatrick said the defence team had emailed court on Friday outlining that their client had “had respiratory problems for some time”.

WikiLeaks later confirmed that Assange had been advised against going to the video conferencing room in Belmarsh prison by his doctors.

“He remains at high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to an underlying lung condition exacerbated by years of confinement recognised by the UK as arbitrary detention,” the organisation said in a statement.

The Australian hasn’t been seen for more than two months in court or via videolink, with his lawyers previously telling the judge he was “too unwell” to attend.

Judge Baraitser scheduled Assange’s next call over hearing for June 29.

Psychiatric assessment unable to take place

Meanwhile, prosecution barrister James Lewis told the court his team had been unable to conduct a psychiatric assessment of Assange because they were still unable to access Belmarsh prison.

In response the judge pushed back the due date of psychiatric reports on the Australian to July 31.

Mr Lewis also mentioned that new evidence — not in response to the prosecution’s evidence — had been served by the defence and would need to be examined to determine admissibility.

The judge ordered that the prosecution’s new skeleton argument be presented by August 25 with the defence’s skeleton argument due on September 1.

Judge Baraitser also said the court was yet to find an alternative venue for Assange’s next three-week extradition hearing set for September 7.

It’s understood that’s difficult due to the huge backlog of cases in the UK, exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown. The judge wants to limit Assange’s travel time between Belmarsh prison and the courtroom as well.

WikiLeaks ambassador Joseph Farrell said the delay on the new venue was “ridiculous”.

“The delay has been a punishment in itself. Whether Julian can get proper access to his legal team remains unlikely, as Belmarsh prison remains in full lockdown,” he said in a statement.

“And to add insult to injury the court is unable to provide reporters with the most basic levels of access.”

Assange is accused of publishing thousands of secret US diplomatic and military files, some of which revealed alleged war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The charges carry a total of 175 years’ imprisonment.

AAP