Assange held in London jail ahead of long legal fight
April 12 2019 06:11 PM
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is carried by Metropolitan Police officers
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is carried by Metropolitan Police officers during his arrest and taken into custody following the Ecuadorian government's termination of asylum, in London, Britain


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange woke up in a British jail Friday at the start of a likely lengthy extradition battle after a dramatic end to his seven-year stay in Ecuador's London embassy.
Within hours of police hauling him out of the embassy, the 47-year-old Australia appeared in court for breaching his British bail conditions back in 2012 and to face a subsequent US extradition request.
After Assange was arrested and dragged into a police van in the British capital, American officials unsealed an indictment against him for computer hacking as part of his WikiLeaks whistleblowing activities.
The Sun tabloid reported he was being held in Wandsworth prison in south London, where he spent nine days in 2010 following an investigation over alleged sexual assault in Sweden that has since been dropped.
Deemed "the most overcrowded prison" in England at its last inspection in 2018, the 19th-century facility holds around 1,600 inmates.
Inspectors found "most prisoners share a cell designed for one person" while more than a third "were receiving psychosocial help for substance misuse problems".
Assange was remanded into prison custody Thursday at a short hearing in front of a London judge, who pronounced him guilty of disobeying his bail terms by fleeing to the embassy in June 2012.
He could receive up to a year in prison when sentenced at an as yet undetermined later date. 
His separate extradition case is set to be next heard by video-link at Westminster Magistrates Court on May 2.
Assange's London lawyer Jennifer Robinson confirmed he would be "contesting and fighting" his long-feared extradition to the United States.
"He said: 'I told you so'," Robinson told reporters and supporters, including fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, outside court on Thursday.
WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson warned he fears the US will add more charges, meaning he could face decades in an American prison.
Assange sought asylum at Ecuador's premises in London's chic Knightsbridge district after a British judge ruled he should be extradited to Sweden to face the sexual assault allegations.
Inside the red-brick building he lived a sparse existence in a flat measuring 18 square metres (190 square feet) and comprising just a bed, shower, computer, treadmill and microwave. 
However, relations with his Ecuadoran hosts gradually soured and pro-US President Lenin Moreno on Thursday pulled his asylum, cancelled his citizenship and permitted British police to remove Assange.
Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the arrest as showing "no one is above the law".
But opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a leftist stalwart, called for the government to block the extradition.
"The extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed," he said on Twitter.
Meanwhile May's words prompted a furious reaction on Twitter from Assange's mother, who lives in Australia.
She accused the British prime minister of "trying to divert attention away from her Brexit dog's breakfast by cheering on the thuggish, brutal, unlawful arrest of my courageous, tortured multi-award winning journalist son".
Legal experts said on Friday that the case could take several years mired in British courts and, if appealed, potentially go all the way to the European Court of Justice.
"This extradition will be very difficult to fight -- given the nature of the UK-US extradition agreement," Anthony Hanratty from the law firm BDB Pitmans told The Times.
He added other factors stacked against Assange included "the weight which the UK courts attach to the trust and co-operation between the two countries and the effort the US will likely put in".
At Thursday's hearing, judge Michael Snow described Assange as a "narcissist" and said he could consent to the extradition and "get on with your life".
Previous comparable cases have taken several years.
Two British judges last year agreed to block the extradition of accused hacker Lauri Love to the US, on the grounds it would be "oppressive", in a ruling hailed a "landmark judgement".
The US first requested Love's extradition in 2013.
Meanwhile Gary McKinnon, a hacker wanted by American authorities for allegedly breaking into military computer systems, waged an ultimately successful decade-long legal battle against his extradition.
Britain eventually said it would not send him to the US because of a high risk he would attempt suicide.
Both Love and McKinnon suffer from Asperger's syndrome, which played a part in the respective rulings.

UN torture expert warns over extradition to US

Julian Assange is not guaranteed a fair trial in the United States, a UN rights expert told AFP Friday, questioning the US justice system's credibility in national security cases.
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Nils Melzer, also said that the manner in which Ecuador terminated Assange's diplomatic protection broke international norms.
But Melzer made clear that his greatest concerns for the WikiLeaks founder -- arrested by British police on Thursday after spending almost seven years in Ecuador's London embassy -- stem from Assange's possible extradition to the US. 
"I'm worried about fair trial," said Melzer, one of several UN rapporteurs active on the Assange case. 
"I'm worried that he might be exposed to (the) detention practices of the United States, which in part are very problematic," he added.
"The United States in the last decade unfortunately has not proven to be a safe state with regard to the provision of torture in cases that involve national security," Melzer added. 
Melzer has previously raised alarm about alleged torture in the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, as well as over the use of waterboarding, which President Donald Trump has labelled an effective interrogation technique. 
The US request to extradite Assange is set to be heard in British court on May 2. 
US officials have unsealed an indictment against him for computer hacking as part of his WikiLeaks whistleblowing activities.
But Melzer echoed concerns that the US charge sheet could be expanded, especially if the Justice Department gets Assange on US soil. 
The UN expert argued that regardless of one's personal view of Assange, "from a human rights perspective, he was basically doing the same thing that investigative journalists do all over the world," by publishing information that states try to conceal.
The national security implications of the charges, combined with the fact that the US practices the death penalty, is "obviously a very serious concern," the UN expert further said. 
Turning to the arrest, Melzer conceded that "theoretically" Ecuador had the right to terminate Assange's protection and strip his citizenship. 
"But in a state that is governed by the rule of law, these types of steps are to be taken in a procedure that is subject to legal remedies and appeals," added Melzer, a Swiss national who also teaches international law at the University of Glasgow. 
The "shortcuts" taken in the run up to the arrest are "very, very problematic," he said. 
"The rule of law is not being respected."
Melzer, like all UN special rapporteurs, is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council who does not speak for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Guterres's top human rights official, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, has not condemned the arrest. 
Bachelet's spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, told reporters in Geneva on Friday that the high commissioner expects "all relevant authorities to ensure that Mr. Assange's right to a fair trial is upheld."

Last updated: April 12 2019 07:08 PM

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