US tried to kidnap Julian Assange, says lawyer

WikiLeaks founder makes unsuccessful bid to delay his extradition hearing

Supporters of Julian Assange outside Westminster Magistrates Court.
(Image credit: (Leon Neal/Getty Images))

Julian Assange’s extradition hearing will go ahead in February 2020 after a judge denied a request by his lawyers to delay proceedings by three months due to alleged US interference.

The WikiLeaks founder appeared at Westminster Magistrates court yesterday for a case management hearing on his extradition to the United States. He is accused of breaking into a classified Pentagon computer and could receive a 175-year jail sentence if convicted.

During the hearing, Assange's lawyer accused US authorities of trying to “kidnap and harm” the WikiLeaks founder, Sky News reports. Mark Summers QC claimed the US had “intruded” on conversations between Assange and his legal team while his client was in the Ecuadorian embassy.

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Summers said the intrusions included “hooded men breaking into offices” and that concerns about a kidnapping attempt and “multiplicitous” other matters meant the case should be delayed for three months.

However, Judge Vanessa Baraitser denied the request to delay proceedings and said the case should begin on 25 February.

CNN says that Assange struggled to give his name and date of birth at the beginning of the hearing, making “long pauses and mumbling some words”.

When the judge asked the WikiLeaks founder if he understood what was happening, Assange replied: “What is happening? Not really.” The Independent said he “fought tears”.

The 48-year-old, who is being held at Belmarsh prison, added: “I don’t understand how this is equitable. This superpower had ten years to prepare for this case and I can’t access my writings. It’s very difficult where I am to do anything but these people have unlimited resources.

“They are saying journalists and whistleblowers are enemies of the people. They have unfair advantages dealing with documents. They [know] the interior of my life with my psychologist. They steal my children’s DNA. This is not equitable what is happening here.”

When he was arrested in April, Assange had a long, unkempt beard. At yesterday’s hearing he was clean-shaven and wore a dark blue suit over a pale blue sweater.

Among his supporters in the public gallery were documentary marker John Pilger and former mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Activists outside chanted “Free Julian Assange” and “No extradition, there’s only one decision”.

The case is expected to take months to resolve because each side will be able to make several appeals.

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