Julian Assange 'too ill' to attend latest court hearing in US extradition case

Lizzie Dearden
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange secretly had two children while inside the Ecuadorian embassy, his partner says: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Julian Assange was too ill to attend the latest court hearing in his battle against being extradited to the US, a court has been told.

The Wikileaks founder is wanted by American authorities to face 17 charges under the Espionage Act and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion after the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011.

He is currently being held in the high-security HMP Belmarsh prison while the court system tries to reschedule his full extradition hearing, which was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A brief hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Monday was barely audible over a telephone link available for journalists to listen in to proceedings.

Bridges for Media Freedom, an organisation which has been monitoring the hearings, said Mr Assange's barrister, Edward Fitzgerald QC, told the court his client did not appear by video link because he was unwell.

The court has previously heard Mr Assange has been given medical advice that using the prison facility could raise the risk of coronavirus infection.

Supporters from the Don’t Extradite Assange campaign said he was at “high risk of contracting Covid-19 due to an underlying lung condition exacerbated by years of confinement”.

Wikileaks ambassador Joseph Farrell said: “Whether Julian can get proper access to his legal team remains unlikely, as Belmarsh prison remains in full lockdown. And to add insult to injury the court is unable to provide reporters with the most basic levels of access.”

Mr Assange was previously refused bail after his lawyers raised fears that he would be exposed to coronavirus in prison.

His full extradition hearing is set to take place on 7 September, having originally been scheduled for last month, although a crown court has not yet been found to take the case.

A further administrative hearing is due to take place on 29 June.

Mr Assange, 48, has been in custody since he was arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in April last year.

He spent seven years in the building after seeking asylum when he lost a legal battle over extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations in 2012.

The Ecuadorian ambassador told Mr Assange his political asylum was being revoked on the morning of 11 April 2019, just half an hour before he was filmed being dragged out of the embassy and into a police van.

The Metropolitan Police said officers removed Mr Assange from after receiving a “formal written invitation signed by the Ecuadorian ambassador”.

His Ecuadorian citizenship has also been suspended, with the country’s president claiming he had “violated norms” by intervening in other state’s affairs.

Sweden has subsequently dropped its investigation and the corresponding arrest warrant.

Mr Assange has served his sentence for skipping bail in Britain, leaving the US case as the only outstanding charges.

Additional reporting by PA

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