UK judge sets February 2020 for Assange extradition hearing

Demonstrators protest outside of Westminster Magistrates Court, where a case hearing for US extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is held, in London, Britain, June 14, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 14 June 2019

UK judge sets February 2020 for Assange extradition hearing

LONDON: The full extradition hearing to decide whether Wikileaks founder Julian Assange should be sent to the United States to face accusations including spying charges will take place in February next year, a London court ruled on Friday.
Assange, 47, faces 18 counts in the US including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.
“It is important that people aren’t fooled into believing that WikiLeaks is anything but a publisher,” said Assange, who appeared by videolink from a London prison, dressed in a grey T-shirt and wearing black-framed glasses.
“The US government has tried to mislead the press,” he told Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
As Ben Brandon, the lawyer representing the United States, ran through a summary of the charges against him including that he had cracked a US Defense network password, Assange said: “I didn’t hack anything.”
Australian-born Assange came to prominence when WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables in 2010, angering Washington which said he had put lives at risk.
His supporters hail him as a hero for exposing what they describe as abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech.
He spent almost seven years holed up in cramped rooms at the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he fled in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was wanted for questioning over allegations of rape.
He was dragged from the embassy on April 11 and jailed for 50 weeks for skipping bail.
The United States has since charged Assange with numerous offenses including espionage, saying he unlawfully published the names of secret sources and conspiring with ex-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to obtain access to classified information.
Brandon said Assange’s actions had been dangerous and “by publishing the unredacted material Mr.Assange created grave and imminent risk that many intelligence sources, including journalists, human rights defenders and political activists would suffer serious physical harm or arbitrary detention.”
However, Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers said the charges were an “outrageous and full fronted assault on journalist rights and free speech” and that his client did not have access to a computer to allow him to follow the case.
He told the court that Assange, who had been too ill to attend the previous hearing in May, was receiving health care. He did not elaborate.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot said the full extradition case would be heard in the week starting Feb. 25 next year. 


US consular staff in Turkey quizzed over video that ‘mocked Islam’

Updated 20 November 2019

US consular staff in Turkey quizzed over video that ‘mocked Islam’

  • The video, which spread online, showed a women mocking “Zamzam” water
  • The prosecutor said those detained were two employees from the consulate aged 30 and 38

ISTANBUL: Turkish police questioned two local staffers from a US consulate in Turkey Wednesday over a Halloween party video accused of “denigrating religious values,” news agency DHA reported.
The pair, who work at the consulate in the southern city of Adana, were taken in for questioning and later released, the local prosecutor told DHA.
It followed a video, which spread online, showing a women mocking “Zamzam” water, which is considered holy because it is drawn from a well in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
A man, dressed as a pious Muslim, advises her to drink a cocktail.
The prosecutor said those detained were two employees from the consulate aged 30 and 38.
A number of issues have strained relations between Ankara and Washington, including Turkey’s offensive last month against Kurdish militants in Syria, who were a close ally of the US against the Daesh group.
There was also a row over the arrest of several Turks working for US diplomatic outposts following the attempted coup of 2016.
One employee, Metin Topuz from the Istanbul consulate, is still in jail pending his trial on espionage charges.
In January, a staffer at the Adana consulate, Hamza Ulucay, was freed after nearly two years in pre-trial detention over alleged links to the Gulenist movement that Turkey blames for the attempted coup.