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WHAT transpired this week at Woolwich Crown Court was a travesty of justice. Julian Assange, rightly viewed by many as a hero for his role in exposing US war crimes and other misdeeds, was hauled before a kangaroo court considering whether or not he will be extradited.
Coming from the US, the country with the largest prison system on the planet, I was accustomed to seeing inmates denied a fair trial. But what I witnessed at the Woolwich Court annex to Belmarsh Prison was truly shocking.
The most visually striking aspect of the Woolwich courtroom is where Assange sits — in a box covered by bullet-proof glass. This obviously unnecessary “security” measure was aimed at portraying Assange as a dangerous, violent terrorist who must be restrained at all times.
Not only was the bullet-proof box dehumanising and degrading, it also made it impossible for Assange to participate in his own defence — a basic principle of due process. Assange could barely even hear the proceedings, let alone communicate with his legal team. Any communications that did occur in the box were not confidential since he was flanked at all times by at least one security guard.
On Wednesday, Assange finally had enough. He stood up and began to address the judge, requesting he be permitted to properly communicate with his own lawyers. The judge cut him off and sent the court into recess rather than allow him to speak.
When the court reconvened, Assange’s lawyer formally requested Assange be permitted to sit with his legal team — a position that astonishingly was supported by the lawyer for the prosecution, who apparently found the whole set-up so gross as to discredit the entire proceeding. Yet still, the judge would not relent and Assange remained caged like an animal.
However the abuse in the courtroom pales in comparison to the abuse behind closed doors in Belmarsh prison.
The night after the trial opened, prison authorities relentlessly harassed Assange. He was shuffled from room to room all night, stripped naked and handcuffed multiple times throughout the ordeal. His legal papers were also confiscated. When the defence lawyers complained the following day in court, the judge shrugged her shoulders and said that she had no authority over the prison administration who subjected him to such humiliation.
The years of suffering Assange has endured while being persecuted by the US, British and other governments is evident simply from his physical appearance. Assange was clearly exhausted in the courtroom, sometimes slumped over.
Even before being subjected to nearly a year of HMP Belmarsh, Assange had to deal with the psychological torment of nearly seven years’ confinement in the Ecuadorian Embassy. At the same time it is clear he still has the will to fight and has not compromised his principles an inch.
The world owes a great debt to Assange and Wikileaks for exposing the crimes committed by the US government in furtherance of their empire. From the Iraq “collateral murder” video to the Afghan war logs, the diplomatic cable archive and beyond, Assange provided the world with further evidence of the US’s utterly lawless behaviour on the world stage — and now the Trump administration wants revenge.
The trial resumes in May, and will likely be followed by an extensive series of appeals. As this process unfolds, support of people around the world for Assange can be decisive.
Walter Smolarek is a news reporter and producer for Radio Sputnik’s Washington DC-based radio show Loud and Clear.
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