After concluding the second and last phase of the judicial process in October, the verdict is expected on 4 January of next year, a decision that further prolongs the agony of the Australian journalist, who has spent more than eight years in confinement.
First came seven years of asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, where he took refuge in June 2012 to avoid being sent to Sweden, where he was being investigated for alleged sexual crimes but ran the risk of being handed over to the United States.
The latter seeks to prosecute him for leaking war crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for divulging compromising diplomatic cables. After being betrayed by the government of Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno, which opened the doors of the embassy to the London Police in April 2019, allowing them to arrest him for violating a bail granted in connection with the Swedish case, Assange was confined to maximum security prison in Belmarsh, in the east of the British capital.
Fifty weeks in jail was the sentence handed down expeditiously by the Westminster Magistrate Court, but once the sentence was served, Judge Vanessa Baraitser determined that the WikiLeaks founder must wait in jail for her to decide whether to extradite him to the United States or not.
During the four weeks that the second part of the extradition hearing lasted in London’s The Old Bailey, Assange’s defence team tried to convince Baraitser that his client is the subject of unprecedented political persecution in the history of US jurisprudence.
To support the case, the lawyers presented a team of legal experts who attested that no journalist or editor has ever been tried in the United States under the Espionage Act of 1917, and much less convicted, or for publishing leaks of classified information. As proof of this, they referred to the fact that then-President Barack Obama never wanted to press charges against WikiLeaks.
The US Justice Department alleges, however, that it does not want to prosecute Assange for the WikiLeaks revelations, but rather for endangering the lives of the Army informants whose names came to light.
In this regard, several editors and journalists who collaborated in the dissemination of the files declared under oath that the Australian cyber activist was particularly careful when editing the documents, and erased any information that could lead to the identification of those individuals.
Other witnesses summoned by the defence noted the extreme prison conditions that Assange would face if sent to the United States, where he could be sentenced to 175 years in prison under the 18 criminal charges he is accused of, which range from espionage to conspiracy to commit computer hacking.
According to Maureen Baird, former director of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, the WikiLeaks founder would end up in federal prison in Florence, Colorado, along with notorious terrorists such as the Unabomber and the Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín Guzmán (El Chapo).
The defence also insisted on showing, based on the testimony of several witnesses, that US President Donald Trump wants to lock up Assange to cover up the fact that he benefitted from the revelations made by WikiLeaks with regard to the emails of the Democratic National Committee in order to win the 2016 election.
Trump’s name also came to light in the pardon that then-Republican Congressman Dara Rohrabacher offered him in August 2017 in exchange for revealing his sources of information, declared Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer for the Australian journalist who participated in the meeting at the Ecuadorian embassy.
The now outgoing US president would have also ordered negotiations with the government of Ecuador to deliver Assange to the British Police, while Spain’s justice system is investigating the links between a tycoon from Trump’s circle of friends with the Spanish company that was in charge of the security of the Ecuadorian embassy in London during part of the time that the WikiLeaks founder was in asylum there.
According to an affidavit in the London court by two former UC Global employees, the Jerez de la Frontera-based firm began spying on Assange and his visitors after signing a contract in 2016 with another company owned by millionaire Sheldom Addison.
Thousands of Julian Assange defenders hope that the United Kingdom will refuse to hand him over to the United States, because the current treaty between the two countries prohibits the extradition of people accused of political crimes. (PL)