Julian Assange extradition hearing restarts in London after lockdown delay

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Julian Assange’s extradition hearing is set to restart on Monday after being delayed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wikileaks founder is fighting against being extradited to the United States where he faces espionage charges.

Prosecutors in the United States indicted Assange on 18 counts of spying and computer misuse charges over Wikileaks’ publication of secret US military documents.

Lawyers for the 49-year-old Australian, meanwhile, have said that prosecutors are stifling press freedom.

Defence lawyer Jennifer Robinson said Assange’s case “is fundamentally about basic human rights and freedom of speech.”

“Journalists and whistle-blowers who reveal illegal activity by companies or governments and war crimes – such as the publications Julian has been charged for – should be protected from prosecution,” she said.

Prosecutors for the US say he conspired with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange says he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protection. He claims the leaked documents exposed military wrongdoing.

Among the files was a video from 2007 of a US Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad which killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.

Assange was first arrested in London in 2010 at Sweden’s request over allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. Assange took refuge inside Ecuador’s embassy starting in 2012.

He was eventually evicted from the embassy in April 2019 but the Swedish charges were dropped in November since so much time had passed.

His hearing on US extradition began in February but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic as the UK went into lockdown in March.

Assange has been in prison at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison and the extradition hearing could take weeks or months with the losing side appealing any decision.

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