Julian Assange has been told to hold his tongue and not interrupt court proceedings by a judge as he contests US attempts to extradite him from Britain to stand trial over his WikiLeaks website.
During the cross-examination of human rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, one of Assange’s own witnesses in his extradition trial, Jules shouted out, “I’m here and by proxy” according to The Times.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, presiding, warned Assange to keep quiet, telling the Aussie: “Witnesses must be allowed to give their evidence free from interruption. In these hearings, things will most likely be said which you don’t agree with, and you would like to contradict it and speak about these things yourself. This is not the opportunity to do so.”
The judge added that “it is open to me to proceed without you”, a clear threat to remove the WikiLeaker from the courtroom if he kept on disrupting proceedings.
During his testimony, Stafford-Smith said Assange’s disclosures of US policy documents and internal messages had helped expose war crimes and human rights abuses by American military personnel.
Assange is accused by American prosecutors of helping former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal confidential information from military servers before publishing them on WikiLeaks for the world and his dog to pore over. He is charged with breaches of that country’s Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as facing espionage charges, with the US indictment totalling 18 counts when the case opened.
Yesterday Assange was re-arrested in the court’s cells after more charges against him were formally added to the case, including that he cultivated hacking crew LulzSec. The hackers’ chief, Hector Xavier Monsegur, had been identified and turned by American police agents before Assange contacted him for alleged hacking help. Having been threatened with having his child forcibly removed for adoption unless he identified his fellow hackers, single father Monsegur is said to have passed on information to the FBI.
Prosecuting on behalf of the US, James Lewis QC acknowledged in written legal arguments that the extradition attempt is seen as making Assange “a target in a ‘war’ on journalists” initiated by American president Donald Trump. The barrister described that as “speculation”, pointing out that an active criminal investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange had been ongoing since before Trump took office in 2016.
The WikiLeaker’s defence team cites section 81(a) and (b) of the Extradition Act 2003, on the grounds that extradition is so Assange can be punished for his political opinions and not for committing a genuine crime.
Assange is also accused of committing crimes by helping US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal the extent to which the agency and its employees were breaking even the lax laws meant to keep them under a modicum of democratic control.
The Assange extradition request is being heard by Westminster Magistrates’ Court, though it is sitting at the Old Bailey (a crown court building) to accommodate the large number of press and public interested in proceedings. The hearing continues. ®