Cyprus

Assange: this case already has enough spies

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has told a court he is not able to participate in extradition proceedings because he fears his conversations with lawyers are being spied on.

Assange, 48, is wanted to face trial in the US on 17 charges under the Espionage Act and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion after the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011.

He is fighting to avoid being handed over to the US and addressed Judge Vanessa Baraitser from the dock during a third day of legal argument on Wednesday at Woolwich Crown Court, which is sitting as a magistrates’ court.

“I can’t speak to my lawyers in confidentiality. There’s a whole series of people sitting there and there’s microphones,” he said.

“I can’t, with any confidence, give her (my solicitor) any instructions. This case already has enough spies on my lawyers as it is.”

The court has previously heard claims Assange’s legal team were bugged during visits to him in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he was holed up for almost seven years.

The comments came when the judge asked if Assange could continue without a break after Assange’s barrister, Edward Fitzgerald QC, earlier said he may struggle to follow proceedings because he is on medication.

Concerns have previously been raised over his health and conditions in high-security Belmarsh prison, where he is being held on remand.

On Tuesday, Mr Fitzgerald said Assange was handcuffed 11 times, stripped naked twice and had legal papers confiscated at Belmarsh during the first day of the hearing.

“I have very little time with my lawyers… the other parties must have something like 100 times more contact a day,” Assange said.

“There’s no point concentrating on anything as I’m not able to participate.”

But the judge silenced Assange, telling him: “I wouldn’t normally allow any defendant to speak in these circumstances. There is no reason to make any exception in your case, I’m afraid.”

Following a short break, Mr Fitzgerald told the court Assange was finding it difficult and asked if he could leave the glass-enclosed dock.

“We respectfully submit this is a gentleman of an intellectual nature. There’s no reason he shouldn’t sit with us and be able to communicate with us if he needs to,” he said.

The judge said his circumstances were no different from those in any other extradition proceedings or criminal trial, adding: “I strongly suspect security officials wouldn’t be able to accommodate that.

“I can’t imagine it’s a matter for me, but I can’t imagine that’s something that can be accommodated.”

Mr Fitzgerald said Assange was happy for proceedings to continue with him in the dock but said he may make a further application.

Prosecutors say Assange committed “common criminality” by plotting to hack into and steal state secrets from US Department of Defence computers, along with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

He is also accused of knowingly putting hundreds of sources around the world at risk of torture and death by publishing unredacted documents containing names or other identifying details.

Assange’s lawyers argued on Wednesday he cannot legally be handed to the US for “political offences” because of the 2003 Anglo-US extradition treaty.

Mr Fitzgerald said the protection from extradition sought by powerful countries such as America, China and Russia, “on the basis of disclosures made which are uncomfortable or threatening”, is of “fundamental importance”.

But prosecutors say Assange has no rights under the treaty and that the case is covered only by the 2003 Extradition Act under English law, which makes no exception for political offences.

The hearing continues.