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That extradition request is no longer active, but Swedish officials say the rape investigation may be revived now that Assange is no longer out of reach in the Ecuadorian Embassy.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.


EU warns of ‘challenging’ timeframe for UK trade deal

Updated 13 December 2019

EU warns of ‘challenging’ timeframe for UK trade deal

  • EU is concerned about the rapid speed with which Johnson would like to strike a trade deal with Europe
  • Johnson has until July 1 to request for a trade talks extension

BRUSSELS: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday warned of the tight timing for securing a trade deal with Britain, hours after Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won a crushing election victory.
“The time frame ahead of us is very challenging,” von der Leyen said, following a discussion by EU leaders on the way forward after Brexit, now expected on January 31.
On the “first of February, we go to work,” she said.
EU Council President Charles Michel warned that the 27 member states would not accept a deal blindly, stressing that the bloc would insist that Britain respect European norms to win the deal.
“There is no question of concluding a deal at any price, said Michel, who coordinates EU summits, after the talks.
“Negotiations are over when the results are balanced and guarantee respect for the different concerns,” the former Belgian premier said.
“We have a way of doing things based on experience, transparency and maintaining unity” in the EU, he added.
EU is worried about the breakneck speed with which Johnson would like to strike a trade deal with Europe and any British effort to undermine the unity among the remaining 27 members.
In a text released after the talks, the 27 EU leaders called for “as close as possible a future relationship with the UK” while warning that it “will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations and ensure a level playing field.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will direct trade negotiations, which the leaders will follow closely “and provide further guidance as necessary, fully consistent with the EU’s best interest,” conclusions added.
Johnson has until July 1 to ask for a trade talks extension.
If he refuses to extend the negotiation period, a no-deal Brexit will loom at the end of 2020, with Britain in danger of an abrupt cut in trade ties with Europe, endangering its economy.