Wikileaks founder Julian Assange loses bid to delay hearing

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been in Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London while the extradition case is being prepared. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2019

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange loses bid to delay hearing

  • The 48-year-old Australian is set to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court for a case management hearing
  • The case is expected to take months to resolve, with each side able to make several appeals of rulings

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in a UK court Monday to fight extradition to the United States on espionage charges, and he lost a bid to delay proceedings so that his legal team would have more time to prepare his case.
Assange defiantly raised a fist to supporters who jammed the public gallery in Westminster Magistrates Court for a rare view of their hero. He appears to have lost weight but looked healthy, although he spoke very softly and at times seemed despondent and confused.
Assange and his legal team failed to convince District Judge Vanessa Baraitser that a delay in the already slow-moving case was justified. The full extradition is still set for a five-day hearing in late February, with brief interim hearings in November and December.
Assange hadn’t been seen in public for several months and his supporters had raised concerns about his well-being. He wore a blue sweater and a blue sports suit for the hearing, and had his silvery-gray hair slicked back.
After the judge turned down his bid for a three-month delay, Assange said in halting tones he didn’t understand the events in court.
He said the case is not “equitable” because the US government has “unlimited resources” while he doesn’t have easy access to his lawyers or to documents needed to prepare his battle against extradition while he is confined to Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London.
“They have all the advantages,” the 48-year-old Assange said.
US authorities accuse Assange of scheming with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break a password for a classified government computer.
Lawyer Mark Summers, representing Assange, told the judge that more time was needed to prepare Assange’s defense because the case has many facets, including the very rare use of espionage charges against a journalist, and will require a “mammoth” amount of planning and preparation
“Our case will be that this is a political attempt to signal to journalists the consequences of publishing information. It is legally unprecedented,” he said.
He also accused the US of illegally spying on Assange while he was inside the Ecuadorian Embassy seeking refuge and taking other illegal actions against the WikiLeaks founder.
“The American state has been actively engaged in intruding into privileged discussions between Mr. Assange and his lawyers in the embassy, also unlawful copying of their telephones and computers (and) hooded men breaking into offices,” he said.
He did not provide evidence of these charges, which likely would be part of Assange’s defense against extradition when the full hearing is held next year.
Summers said the initial case against Assange was prepared during the administration of former President Barack Obama in 2010 but wasn’t acted on until Donald Trump assumed the presidency. He said it represents the administration’s aggressive attitude toward whistleblowers.
Summers asked for a three-month delay to the full hear but was rebuffed after lawyer James Lewis, representing the US, said the US opposed any delay to the proceeding.
The public gallery was jammed with Assange supporters, including former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, and outside the courthouse others carried placards calling for Assange to be released. There were chants demanding he be freed.
The judge said the full hearing will be heard at Belmarsh Court, which is adjacent to the prison where Assange is being held. She said this would be easier for Assange to attend and contains more room for the media.
Assange’s lawyers said the five days wouldn’t be enough for the entire case to be heard. They are expected to ask for more time at a later date.
Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed an order in June allowing Assange to be extradited.
Assange claims he is a journalist entitled to First Amendment protection.
A number of media freedom groups have said the use of espionage charges against Assange represents a threat to all journalists.


Thailand to tout 'trusted' tourism in coronavirus era

Updated 13 min 32 sec ago

Thailand to tout 'trusted' tourism in coronavirus era

  • The government has rolled out a health certification system for hotels and restaurants so that travellers can be reassured
  • Thailand has banned international flights until at least June 30
BANGKOK: Thailand is positioning itself as a trusted destination for international tourists after travel restrictions ease, capitalising on its relative success in containing the coronavirus outbreak, industry officials say.
The Southeast Asian country, the first to report a virus case outside of China, wants to build on its reputation and remake its popular image as a destination for big tour groups.
"After COVID eases, we plan to refresh the country's image to a trusted destination where tourists will have peace of mind," Tanes Petsuwan, the Tourism Authority of Thailand's (TAT) deputy governor for marketing and communications, told Reuters.
The campaign, to be launched later in the year, will be aimed at young affluent travellers from places that are considered low-risk such as China, South Korea and Taiwan, Tanes said. It will highlight scenic beaches and parks, part of a "tourism bridge" that could emerge in Asia including Hong Kong and Japan.
The government has rolled out a health certification system for hotels and restaurants so that travellers can be reassured.
"The certificate is a tool to build trust and showcase Thailand as your amazing trusted destination," Tanes said.
Southeast Asia's second-largest economy has so far reported just over 3,100 cases and 58 deaths – far less than other major regional economies, except for Vietnam. Local transmission has waned, with the last recorded case on May 25.
The tourism industry, which accounts for 12 percent of the economy, collapsed after the outbreak escalated. Thailand welcomed 39.8 million foreign tourists last year but projects as few as 14 million for 2020.
Thailand has banned international flights until at least June 30, and foreign tourists aren't expected until later in the year. In the meantime, the government is drawing up a stimulus package to promote domestic tourism from July to October.
But when international travel resumes, Thailand will promote the "trust" concept, as hotels emphasise measures they are taking for safety and offer special packages.
Central Plaza Hotel Pcl, which manages 46 hotels and resorts across Thailand, will seal rooms once they are cleaned and disinfected so guests will be confident, deputy CEO Markland Blaiklock told Reuters.
"We may limit occupancy at 50% on some properties so guests experience social distancing that they are comfortable with," he said.
But it's unclear if travellers will be at ease before a coronavirus vaccine is available, which experts say is at least a year away.
For now, hotels will have to go the extra mile to tempt travellers.
Potjanee Darakamas of Oxford Acuity, which manages and operates hotels, cited private airport transfers, in-room spa services and packages around specific themes such as health retreats and activities tailor-made for individual guests.
"Hygiene is a must, so offering bespoke services will give boutique hotels with unique selling points an advantage over corporate operators."