Assange extradition ruling to be given on January 4: judge

A British judge on Thursday said she would rule on January 4 next year on whether to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser adjourned the case after hearing four weeks of evidence, and remanded the 49-year-old Australian in custody until an administrative hearing later this month.

Assange faces 18 charges in the US relating to the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Evidence in the extradition hearing at London’s Old Bailey court ended on Thursday.

But judge Baraitser had earlier agreed to a request from Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald for more time to prepare his closing arguments.

Fitzgerald claims the move to extradite his client is politically motivated under President Donald Trump and that circumstances may change after the US election.

Washington claims Assange helped intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal the documents before exposing confidential sources around the world.

If convicted, Assange — who has been held at London’s high security Belmarsh Prison for the last 16 months — could be jailed for up to 175 years.

The extradition hearing is the latest in a series of legal battles faced by Assange since the leaks a decade ago.

In 2010, he dodged an attempt to extradite him to Sweden to face questioning over sexual abuse accusations by claiming political asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London.

For seven years he lived in a small apartment in the embassy, but was turned over to British police in April 2019 after a change of government in Quito.

Supporters of Assange, including his fiancee and the mother of his two young sons, Stella Moris, gathered outside the Old Bailey court in central London, to call for his release.

They have included the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and Assange’s father, John Shipton.

Many held placards reading “Stop this political trial” and “Free Julian Assange”.

Moris thanked campaigners and said the extradition hearing was “a fight for Julian’s life, a fight for press freedom and a fight for the truth”.

“Over the past four weeks the true nature of this prosecution has come to light. Julian is being punished for performing a public service that we have all benefitted from,” she said.

“He is in prison because he informed you of actual crimes and atrocities being committed by a foreign power.”

She said lawyers for the US government had accepted it had no evidence that anyone had come to harm because of what WikiLeaks published.

“The US administration is trying to make normal journalistic activities, which are entirely legal in this country, an extraditable offence,” she added.