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A gaunt Assange only able to follow extradition hearing for an hour

A VISIBLY gaunt Julian Assange was able to follow only an hour of the opening day of his extradition hearing today, as protesters outside the High Court demanded an end to the journalist’s “nightmare.”

The Australian’s legal team opened the two-day legal challenge at the central London court, brought by the United States after a decision not to allow the journalist’s extradition earlier this year.

Protesters gathered outside and chanted support for Mr Assange throughout the hearing.

Mr Assange’s partner Stella Moris told supporters that it was “unbearable” to hear the US representatives pick Mr Assange to pieces.

“I hope the courts will end this nightmare, that Julian is able to come home soon and that wise heads prevail,” she said.

Lawyers had sought permission for Mr Assange not to attend via videolink due to his ill health.

After one hour, the Wikileaks founder did appear before the camera, wearing a tie and untucked white shirt.

But Mr Assange, who seemed distracted and has visibly lost weight, appeared to indicate that he could not hear proceedings and requested to leave the video facility an hour later.

In the afternoon he managed fewer than 10 minutes on the videolink. 

The hearing arises from District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s dismissal of the US government application to extradite Mr Assange, handed down in January.

She found that conditions in US prisons created a significant risk that Mr Assange would commit suicide. It would be “oppressive” if he were incarcerated there, she ruled.

James Lewis QC, acting for the US government, told the latest hearing that, since Judge Baraitser’s ruling, the US government had offered significant assurances in respect of Mr Assange’s treatment should he face US justice.

He committed that the Wikileaks founder would not be subject to special administrative measures – designed to keep the most serious criminals in solitary confinement, with very limited access to family or lawyers – and that, if he were convicted, he would be sent to his native Australia to see out his sentence.

Mr Lewis told the court that Ms Baraitser’s ruling had been based on the erroneous expectation that Mr Assange would inevitably face such conditions.

But Edward Fitzgerald QC, who heads the journalist’s defence, said: “Mr Assange would inevitably be in solitary confinement if he is sent to the US. 

“There is a significant increase in chance of suicide if you have autistic spectrum disorder and there is an increase in the chance of suicide if you are in solitary confinement.”

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