With all of the things that have been put on hold around the world because of the pandemic, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the pots that we’ve had simmering on the back burner for quite a while. One of these is the extradition hearings for Julian Assange. The United States has been trying to pry him out his prison cell in London since the beginning of the year, but the lockdown in England has left that situation on hold along with most non-emergency court actions. In order to get around those difficulties, Assange was scheduled to “appear” for his hearing via streaming video from Belmarsh prison in south London, but failed to log in for the hearing because of ill health, according to his doctor and his girlfriend. (The Guardian)
A coalition of Australian MPs, human rights advocates and journalists have called on their country’s government to intervene in the case of Julian Assange, who was said to be too ill to attend the latest court hearing of his extradition case.
The imprisoned WikiLeaks founder was unable to attend via video link because of ill-health and advice from his doctors, according to his partner Stella Moris.
Assange’s extradition hearing begins at Woolwich crown court in south-east London.
After a week of opening arguments, the extradition case is to be adjourned until May, when the two sides will lay out their evidence.
The United States is interested in having a chat with the Wikileaks founder on the subject of 17 charges under the Espionage Act and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. They’re also interested in what sort of agreements were reached between Assange and Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning and how all of Manning’s stolen government files would up online.
Nobody is saying precisely what’s wrong with Assange’s health, though there’s no suggestion that he’s contracted the novel coronavirus. His lawyers, however, are citing the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons as a reason that he should be released immediately and allowed to seek medical attention outside the prison system. That request hasn’t been granted yet either, so Assange remains cooling his heels behind bars.
The problem is that even if they manage to prop up Assange in front of a camera for his hearing, we’re still a long way from the end of the road. The judge isn’t expected to issue a ruling for “several months” after the hearings are concluded, taking us well into the summer even if they wrapped it up this week. And even then, the judge isn’t making the final decision. The court will determine if Assange can be extradited, but even with a thumbs up, the British government will still have to decide if they’re willing to extradite him.
The Brits have been pretty good about honoring our extradition treaty with them in the past, though they have refused on a few occasions. The relationship between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump remains on fairly warm terms, however, so it’s still possible.
I realize I’ve mentioned this before, but not much has changed in the past six months to alter my take on this. I’m not getting my hopes up about Assange being successfully brought to the United States so he can go before a grand jury. He remains a very sympathetic and popular figure on the left and he has plenty of supporters in Great Britain as well as in the United States. There are too many ways he could slip through the cracks, and I won’t be entirely shocked if we wake up one morning and learn that he’s mysteriously landed in Russia, China or Venezuela. And if he does, we’ll have no way of getting our hands on him unless it involves some special ops agents pulling a pillowcase over his head and tossing him in the trunk of a car.