An emotional and clean-shaven Julian Assange has appeared in court to request more time and resources to prepare his defence against extradition to from the UK to the US on espionage charges.
Assange said today he was unable to properly prepare his defence at the case management hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court, in London, which was held to check on his pre-trial progress.
Uncle Sam requested his extradition to face 18 separate charges under the banner of espionage, related to assisting Chelsea Manning exfiltrate classified information. Being found guilty of these could theoretically and cumulatively result in a 170-year prison sentence for the WikiLeaks founder.
Mark Summers QC, acting for Assange, told the court the defence counsel needed three more months to prepare, but this was refused.
So the full hearing will go ahead starting on 25 February and will be heard in HM Prison Belmarsh. Newswire AP described Assange as looking healthy but thinner than at earlier hearings and said he acknowledged the public gallery stuffed with his supporters. He was described as being frail and struggled to give his name and date of birth, and said he was struggling to think.
His defence still relies on legal rights granted to journalists but lawyers also want the court to rule on two new issues.
Firstly they claim the charges against Assange are political in nature – political offences are specifically excluded from the 2003 Extradition Act under which Assange is being tried.
His defence also wants the court to consider ongoing legal battles in Spain where charges have been brought against the security company responsible for monitoring Assange while he was in the Ecuadorean embassy.
UC Global SL – based in Jerez de Frontera – is accused of spying on him, including snooping on conversations held with his legal representatives and handing information it collected to the US intelligence services.
Spanish police have seized documents and computer hardware from the firm and one of its directors was arrested and released on bail. The director has had his accounts frozen, his passport seized and must report to a local court every two weeks. More from El Pais' English edition.
Defence lawyers also claim that a variety of issues are preventing Assange from being able to properly prepare his defence, including lacking access to necessary documents and that inadequate care is endangering his health.
Assange's brief released this statement.
Following the hearing, Assange was returned to Belmarsh. ®