10:16 GMT10 July 2020
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    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange refused to consent to be extradited to the US at a court hearing in London on Thursday, with a second hearing in his case to be held on 30 May. Sputnik spoke to lawyers, human rights activists and journalists, including a long-term Assange associate, to figure out what happens now.

    People took to the streets outside Westminster Magistrates' Court in London on Thursday to voice their opposition to Assange's arrest, detention and possible extradition to the United States, where he potentially faces prosecution under the espionage act and possible life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

    The US began its extradition case a day after London court sentenced the 47-year-old to 50 weeks in prison for breaching bail by going into hiding at the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden on sexual assault charges which were dropped in 2017 due to a lack of evidence.

    Randy Credico, an American radio host and long-term associate of Assange, says the UK conviction "makes no sense at all." 

    "The investigation was dropped and there was never a need for him to have posted bail to begin with. The conviction and sentence for bail jumping is a Kafkaesque travesty and a new low for the shamelessly rigged British legal system," Credico stressed.

    No Chance of Fair Trial in US

    Dr Francis Boyle, a professor of international law at the University of Illinois who has studied the Assange case closely, warned that the whistleblower will have no chance of a fair trial if he is extradited to the US.

    "He will get a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp and railroaded. For that reason alone, his extradition must be denied. To extradite Assange to the United States would violate his basic human rights under both the European Convention on Human Rights and under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the latter of which both Britain and the United States are contracting parties to," Dr. Boyle stressed.

    Furthermore, according to investigative journalist Gordon Dimmack, it's unlikely that UK courts would be able to slow down Assange's extradition even if they wanted to, which they don't.

    "This extradition case started in 2010 and has very powerful people behind it. The UK courts are unlikely to slow that down, in fact they have done everything possible so far to help the US in their extradition attempts," Dimmack lamented.

    The journalist warned that the Ecuadorian government's reported request for assurances from the US not to seek the death penalty for Assange if he were extradited after being thrown out of the their embassy in London last month rang hollow, particularly under the current administration.

    "The US government has given many assurances before, and this current administration is ripping them all up with multiple countries and treaties around the world which were signed years ago, so all bets are off. Especially when considering how the US administration seems hell-bent on imprisoning a journalist for exposing their own war crimes," Dimmack noted.

    As evidence, Dimmack pointed to Chelsea Manning's reimprisonment in March after refusing to testify about WikiLeaks, despite the commutation of her sentence by President Barack Obama in January 2017.

    According to Dimmack, the Assange case is one of "proven war criminals breaking multiple human rights laws to reach out to a foreigner in asylum in a foreign country, because he was a journalist who proved them to be war criminals. If the precedent is set, journalism itself will be on trial for publishing the truth. Assange and WikiLeaks did not hack the documents that proved past governments around the world to be criminal, he just published other people's leaks. If this fundamental pillar of journalism is criminalised, who will be the check on power?"

    For his part, Belgian human rights activist Andy Vermaut emphasised that he "very much" hoped that Assange's extradition would be cancelled, even though things don't look good. "How one shoots the pianist, who is not responsible for the crimes, is unbelievable." Assange, Vermaut noted, "sacrificed a whole period of his life" for the truth about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US intelligence community's habit of spying on Americans and US allies, and other crimes to be heard.

    Vermaut suggested that with the damaging information that Assange released, countries around the world, from Russia to China to Kenya and others might have requested Assange's extradition, but didn't. Instead, the US did. "This has everything to do with the information that WikiLeaks and Julian Assange still have in their possession. Information that will shake the world to its foundations," the activist noted.

    Extradition Will Backfire

    According to Credico, the extradition process against Assange will ultimately "backfire as people around the world mobilise" on his behalf "as the real reason for his prosecution…his exposure of torture and war crimes and crimes against humanity by both the United States and the United Kingdom" becomes apparent.

    Julian Assange was deprived of his asylum in the Ecuador Embassy in London on 11 April, with police dragging him out of the embassy for detention pending trial. US prosecutors charged him with conspiracy to help Chelsea Manning break into a Pentagon computer to release classified information, including a 2010 video of a US military helicopter gunning down unarmed Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists, the war logs from the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables.

    A substantive hearing into the extradition case has been set for 12 June, with the judge saying it would take many months for the "full substance" of Assange's case to be heard.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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