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US PRESIDENT Donald Trump wanted Julian Assange’s “head on a pike,” the WikiLeaks founder’s defence said yesterday as his extradition hearing began.
The decision to “ramp up the charges” against Mr Assange was intended to make him an example, Edward Fitzgerald QC said on behalf of the imprisoned journalist.
A knot of protesters gathered outside Woolwich Crown Court in south-east London, with their songs and chants audible in the courtroom throughout.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser sent a message to the gates of the vast court and prison complex calling for quiet, but protesters paid no heed.
The first morning of what is expected to be a five-day hearing was taken up with James Lewis QC laying out the arguments for extradition on behalf of the US government.
He said that Mr Assange’s actions would have been a crime in Britain. He also argued that he can rightfully be prosecuted in the US because he “aided and abetted” whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who was a serving soldier when she released classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010.
He said that whatever issues there might be with the process, they did not diminish the applicability of the laws that Mr Assange was accused of having violated.
The substantial case against Mr Assange’s extradition is that the imperative to prosecute is political, said Mr Fitzgerald.
He dissected the lengthy timeline of the case, observing that in 2013 then president Barack Obama commuted Ms Manning’s jail sentence and decided to investigate Mr Assange no further.
Only after January 2017, when Mr Trump came to office, were the “grotesquely inflated” charges pursued.
Mr Fitzgerald also argued that his client was unlikely to have a fair trial in the event of his extradition.
He said that Mr Assange was likely to be kept in solitary confinement without sufficient review and would stand trial in a court dominated by jurors closely connected to the US security services.
Disagreement in the days to come is likely to centre on the admissibility of anonymously delivered evidence from contractors, who allege that they were engaged to bug Mr Assange and his legal team during their time in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Mr Fitzgerald said that his witnesses were paid to covertly record audio and video of Mr Assange, including using stickers on the embassy windows and on external rifle microphones to record conversations.
The kidnapping and poisoning of Mr Assange was allegedly also considered. Mr Fitzgerald argued that such bugging would have made a fair trial impossible.
Mr Assange sought permission to address the court but it was denied.
The hearing continues.
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