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Assange's Defence Team Describes New Indictment as 'Astonishing' and Potentially 'Abuse of Conduct'

© Mohamed ElmaaziJohn Shipton outside Westminster Mags on 14 August 2020 with supporters
John Shipton outside Westminster Mags on 14 August 2020 with supporters - Sputnik International
There is concern that the second superseding indictment served by the US government may result in further delays to the extradition case of the WikiLeaks publisher, whose case is due to restart in earnest on 7 September 2020 at the Old Bailey.

Florence Iveson, a barrister acting for Julian Assange at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Thursday said the decision by the US government to serve a second superseding indictment at "the eleventh hour" was "astonishing" and "potentially abuse of conduct".

The US government formally served a second superseding indictment on 12 August, which the defence team argued was much too late. Ms Iveson argued before the court that in order to avoid a delay to the substantive extradition hearings, which are due to be restart on 7 September, the court should ignore the new fact pattern now associated with the conspiracy charge on the superseding indictment and simply decide the case based on the prior indictment.

The defence also argued that there is no justification for the claim by US prosecutors that these latest charges are the product of ongoing investigations because all the claims stem from allegations made in public in 2010 and 2011.

She also pointed out that "Mr Assange has not had the opportunity to consider that document at all". But the idea that the judge should ignore the fact pattern in the second superseding indictment was opposed by Clair Dobbin, who spoke for the US government. Ms Dobbin argued that such a decision would need to be supported by a legal authority and is outside the jurisdiction of the court.

In reading out her decision at the end of the hearing Judge Vanessa Baraitser agreed with Ms Dobbin, stating that it is "not open to this court to exclude the evidence under case management powers" and that she "cannot decide which aspects of a request to consider and which not". Judge Baraitser did point out that Mr Assange has yet to be re-arrested under the new indictment.

As the case stands, the court has granted the defence until next Friday, 21 August, at the latest, to determine whether or not they wish to seek a further delay to the substantive extradition hearings currently listed for 7 September. The defence has repeatedly stated that they do not want further delays to the case which has already been delayed once due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place.

John Shipton, Julian Assange's father, told Sputnik that he believed the prosecution was doing everything it could to ensure the proceedings are delayed until after the US presidential elections, due to be held in November.

​US prosecutors have added further "parties and conduct" that expands to "some degree" Mr Assange's and alleged conduct. It extends the group of people that it is alleged Mr Assange inspired, beyond Ms Manning.

The main change reflected in the superseding indictment is the expansion of the fact pattern in the second charge. Mr Assange was originally charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion by aiding US Army whistlebower Chelsea Manning. The latest indictment amends charge two so that it now alleges that Mr Assange conspired with various hacker groups in 2010 and 2011, and follows submissions made by the defence in February that the purported conspiracy to commit computer intrusion was in relation to Mr Assange (unsuccessfully) aiding Ms Manning to access a music and video gaming website.

As has happened in prior hearings both lawyers and journalists were unable to participate or follow proceedings via telephone link. The hearings were delayed for 30 minutes as the US government failed to have a representative in court in person due to confusion over the listing time of the hearing and technical problems faced by members of the legal teams to participate via telephone. At least some journalists were never able to access the court proceedings via telephone link, and only six members of the press (including a representative from Sputnik) were allowed in court due to social distancing rules.

Over forty human rights and journalism organisations including Reporters Without Borders and the National Union of Journalists have all expressed their opposition to the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder and their concern over the precedent set by prosecuting a journalist for publishing state secrets which revealed, among other things, war crimes committed by US-led forces in IraqAfghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr Assange, who remains incarcerated at the Belmarsh maximum-security prison despite completing his sentence for absconding while on bail, faces up to 175 years in prison if he is convicted on all 18 charges currently levied against him.

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