'I'm in an unfair fight against a superpower,' Assange tells UK court
TRUTH IS OUT
London: A gaunt, hesitant and apparently confused Julian Assange has told a London judge he is in an inequitable fight against a superpower that has been spying on his “interior life” and on confidential meetings with his legal team.
The WikiLeaks founder is trying to avoid extradition to the US to face 17 espionage charges and one computer hacking charge.
His legal team revealed on Monday they want to deal a knockout blow to the case against him, by establishing that the charges are a “political offence” for which extradition cannot be granted.
Assange appeared in person before District Judge Vanessa Baraitser in Westminster Magistrates Court, appearing tired and unwell and speaking hesitantly.
“I can’t think properly,” he complained at the end of the brief administrative hearing, saying the US had “unlimited resources” and an “unfair advantage”.
“I can’t research anything [in prison], I can’t access any of my writing, it’s very difficult where I am [in Belmarsh Prison in South London] to do anything,” he said.
“This is not equitable what’s happening here.”His lawyer Mark Summers, QC, told the court the US administration was prosecuting Assange in a “concerted and avowed drive to escalate its existing war on whistleblowers, to encompass investigative journalists”.
“Our case is that it is a political attack to signal to journalists the consequences of publishing [classified] information.”
Summers appealed for extra time to gather evidence in support of Assange's case, after allegations emerged this year that a Spanish security firm had been passing on to US intelligence agencies video, audio and documents secretly gathered during Assange’s time in the Ecuador embassy in London.
Last week a judge of the Spanish National Court issued an order to investigate the Cadiz company Undercover
Global, for “crimes against privacy and the secrecy of lawyer-client communications, bribery and money laundering”, in response to a complaint from Assange’s lawyers that Undercover Global had installed hidden microphones at the embassy and delivered information to Ecuador authorities and “agents of the United States”.
“The American state has been actively engaged in intruding on privileged discussions between Assange and his lawyers,” Summers told the Westminster court on Monday.
He said there was evidence of unlawful “copying” of Assange’s telephones and computers, and “hooded men breaking into lawyers’ offices”.
Assange complained to the judge the US had obtained details of his “interior life” through psychologist reports, and suggested they had tried to get hold of his children’s DNA.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, the official WikiLeaks representative, said outside court that this was a reference to claims US agents had even collected DNA samples from nappies discarded at the embassy.
Hrafnsson said the US had behaved like a “rogue state” in its investigation of Assange.
Assange’s legal team, in a note distributed outside the court, said there was evidence before Spanish courts of “a sustained series of actions by a Spanish security company in conjunction with US intelligence services to obtain information by unlawful acts, theft and clandestine surveillance within the Ecuadorian embassy whilst Julian Assange was present there”.
“They included … the deliberate targeting and theft of information from the phones and electronic devices of lawyers advising and doctors treating Julian Assange, and the recording of their meetings.
“Further, the private telephones of distinguished journalists visiting the embassy were photographed with data taken sufficient to hack their telephones thereafter.”
Summers also said Assange had not been given a computer to help organise his defence, was refused permission to speak to his US lawyers on the phone, and only last week for the first time was able to receive documents directly from his British lawyers.
Assange is alleged to have conspired with army whistleblower Chelsea Manning in what the US State department’s lawyer James Lewis, QC, called “one of the largest compromises of classified information in history”: publishing through WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of Afghanistan and Iraqi war reports and US State Department cables.
Assange entered court in a blue suit, white shirt and jumper, clean shaven, clutching a sheaf of papers and looking tired and thinner than the last time he was seen in person in court.
During the hearing he regularly closed his eyes and occasionally rocked slightly. When asked to confirm his birth date he paused for a long time before appearing to recall it.
His legal team say they have “substantial and significant concerns” for the health of Assange as a result of his time in the embassy and jail.
Assange was arrested at the Ecuador embassy in London in April. He was sentenced to jail for breaching bail by seeking asylum at the embassy in 2012, and is now in Belmarsh Prison on remand while his extradition fight continues.
The extradition hearing is due to begin in late February.
One of Assange’s Australian advisers, barrister Greg Barns, who was briefed on the case overnight, said Assange’s health had deteriorated.
“I think it’s been a very difficult time for him,” Barns said.
“There’s no doubt that his health has been adversely impacted by seven years living effectively without natural sunlight and cooped up in the embassy and now at Belmarsh Prison.
“Prisons are no place for people who are unwell and generally a person’s health deteriorates in the prison environment, particularly Belmarsh Prison, which is a harsh prison,” he told ABC Radio.
“It does make it difficult in terms of preparation of his case. He’s got to be able to instruct his lawyers, this is a complicated case, and he’s going to be able to do that in circumstances where his health improves.”