The U.S. accuses the Australian journalist of "conspiracy to infiltrate" cyber systems with the objective of accessing classified data.
The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange formally denied before the Westminster Court of Magistrates in London his "consent" to an extradition request made by the United States, a country that wants to try the journalist over publishing leaks about its war crimes, corruption and human rights in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I do not wish to surrender for extradition. I'm a journalist winning many, many awards and protecting many people," said Assange who testified by video conference on Thursday from the Belmarsh maximum security prison, where he is imprisoned after having been condemned by another British court to 50 weeks of jail for violating his conditional freedom in 2012.
The U.S. asked London to surrender Assange, whom it accuses of "conspiracy to infiltrate" cyber systems with the objective of accessing classified data, a charge which could carry a sentence of up to five years in prison. On this regard, Ben Brandon, a lawyer representing the U.S. government, said to the Westminster Court that there is evidence of Assange's acquiring confidential records.
Once the audience with the Westminster Magistrates finished, however, Julian Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, alerted media about the real nature of the legal actions against her client.
"Julian Assange, 47 y.o, fears of having to face more serious charges in the U.S. than hacking."
"Despite what you heard from the prosecutor in the courtroom today, this case is not about hacking," Robinson said and explained that the case is about "a journalist and a publisher who had conversations with a source about accessing material, encouraged that source to provide material and spoke to that source about how to protect their identity. This is a protected activity that journalists engage in all the time."
In addition, during a press conference outside the British court, WikiLeaks chief editor Kristinn Hrafnsson told journalists that Assange has spent 23 hours a day in his cell lately, which means he is going through “solitary” confinement.
“That's unacceptable and that applies to most of the prisoners in that appalling facility. It is unacceptable that a publisher is spending time in that prison,” Hrafnsson denounced and stressed that “the fight has just begun, it will be a long one and a hard one, but we count on the general public to understand the importance of this case and we will fight until victory."
Judge Michael Snow’s ruled that the current extradition case would be adjourned until May 30 for a procedural hearing. Later a new, more substantial hearing will be held on June 12.
Whatever you think about #JulianAssange he should not be extradited to the US for publishing the TRUTH about American war crimes, corruption, human rights abuses & cover-ups. The US extradition bid is an attack on #Assange & all publishers & their freedom of expression pic.twitter.com/Q70rHmWVNJ— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) May 2, 2019
The U.S. persecution of Julian Assange was launched under former President Barack Obama and aggressively pursued by President Donald Trump administration.
The Australian journalist has been accused of having conspired with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to intercept a Pentagon computer. The prosecution maintains that Assange helped Manning decode a secret code so that the analyst could filter classified cables through WikiLeaks.
After Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno withdrew the journalist's diplomatic asylum, Assange was forcibly detained by British agents on April 11 at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had stayed as a refugee since 2012.
The government of former President Rafael Correa protected the WikiLeaks journalist from being arrested and sent to Sweden to be interrogated for sexual abuse crimes there which he had repeatedly denied.