Assange refuses extradition to US; long legal fight expected

Media and supporters wait at the entrance of Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Thursday, May 2, 2019, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is expected to appear by video link from prison. (AP)
Updated 02 May 2019

Assange refuses extradition to US; long legal fight expected

  • Judge Michael Snow said it would likely be "many months" before a full hearing was held on the substance of the US extradition case
  • The 47-year-old Australian was sentenced Wednesday to 50 weeks in prison for jumping bail in 2012 and holing up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London

LONDON:  A defiant Julian Assange told a London court Thursday he will fight extradition to the United States to face charges of conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer, arguing that his work as WikiLeaks founder has benefited the public.
Speaking by video link from Belmarsh Prison in southeast London, Assange said: "I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many awards and protected many people."
His formal refusal to be extradited marks the start of what is expected to be a bruising legal battle over whether he will be brought to trial in the United States.
Assange, wearing jeans and a sports jacket, appeared calm during the brief hearing at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court. Some of his supporters who couldn't get seats in the small courtroom chanted support for Assange from the hallways, shouting "Shame on you" at the judge.
Judge Michael Snow said it would likely be "many months" before a full hearing was held on the substance of the US extradition case. The judge set a procedural hearing for May 30, with a substantive hearing to follow on June 12 once a full US extradition request has been received and studied by Assange's lawyers.
Legal experts predict it will likely take 18 months or longer to resolve the case, with each side able to make several appeals of unfavorable rulings.
In a separate case, the 47-year-old Australian was sentenced Wednesday to 50 weeks in prison in the UK for jumping bail in 2012 and holing up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. At the time, he was facing extradition to Sweden for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations made by two women.
That extradition request is no longer active, but Swedish officials say the rape investigation may be revived now that Assange is no longer out of reach in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Assange says he sought asylum in the embassy because he feared being sent to the US to face charges related to WikiLeaks' publication of classified US military documents.
US authorities accuse Assange of scheming with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break a password for a classified government computer.
Manning served several years in prison for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. She was jailed again in March after refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating the secret-spilling organization.
Ben Brandon, a lawyer representing the US government, said in court Thursday that US investigators had obtained details of chatroom communications between Manning and Assange in 2010. Brandon said the pair had "engaged in real-time discussions regarding Chelsea Manning's dissemination of confidential records to Mr. Assange."
He said the documents allegedly downloaded from a classified US computer included 90,000 activity reports from the war in Afghanistan, 400,000 Iraq war-related reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessments and 250,000 State Department cables.
The US charge against Assange carries a maximum five-year prison sentence, but Assange is worried the US could add further, more serious allegations against him.
"The fight has just begun. It will be a long one and a hard one," said WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, who claimed Assange was being held in "appalling" conditions at Belmarsh Prison.
He said Assange was confined to his cell 23 hours a day, "what we call in general terms solitary confinement."
A few dozen WikiLeaks supporters holding signs reading "Free Assange" and "No extradition" gathered outside the London courthouse before Thursday's hearing.
Some who had waited for two hours hoping to get in were bitterly disappointed when those seats were filled by journalists and lawyers. They shouted angrily at court staff and complained they were being discriminated against for backing Assange. Some later blocked a busy main road outside the court, bringing traffic to a halt.
Assange was arrested last month in London after his relationship with his embassy hosts went sour and Ecuador revoked his political asylum.


10,000 homeless after fire razes Bangladesh slum

Updated 26 min 51 sec ago

10,000 homeless after fire razes Bangladesh slum

  • The fire broke out at in Dhaka’s Mirpur neighborhood late on Friday and razed around 2,000 mostly tin shacks
  • Experts say fires are frequent in Dhaka due to lax safety measures

DHAKA: At least 10,000 people are homeless after a massive fire swept through a crowded slum in the Bangladesh capital and destroyed thousands of shanties, officials said Sunday.
The fire broke out at in Dhaka’s Mirpur neighborhood late on Friday and razed around 2,000 mostly tin shacks, fire services official Ershad Hossain said.
“I could not salvage a single thing. I don’t know what will I do,” 58-year-old Abdul Hamid, who ran a tea stall inside the slum, said as he broke down in tears.
Authorities eventually got the blaze under control and no-one was killed, although several people had minor injuries, firefighters said.
Many residents — largely low-income garment factory workers — were not in the slum as they had left their homes to celebrate the Muslim Eid Al-Adha holiday with their families.
“Otherwise, the damage would have been bigger,” local police chief Golam Rabbani said.
Around 10,000 people have taken refuge in crammed camps at nearby schools closed for the weeklong holiday, according to Hossain.
“We are providing them with food, water, mobile toilets, and electricity supply,” municipal official Shafiul Azam said, adding that authorities were trying to find permanent accommodation.
Some families have erected tarpaulins to shelter them from bouts of rain during the monsoon season, but the wet conditions have turned the fields muddy.
Experts say fires are frequent in Dhaka due to lax safety measures.
At least 100 people have been killed so far this year in building fires across the densely populated metropolitan city.
In 2012, a fire swept through a nine-story garment factory near Dhaka killing 111 workers. An investigation found it was caused by sabotage and that managers at the plant had prevented victims from escaping.
A 2010 fire in Nimtoli, one of the most densely populated districts of the capital, killed 123 people.