LONDON—A British judge refused a request by lawyers acting for Julian Assange to adjourn his extradition hearing until next year, as the WikiLeaks founder’s fight against extradition to the U.S. resumed after months of delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Assange, a 49-year-old Australian, is wanted in the U.S. on 18 charges of breaking espionage laws and conspiring to hack a military computer. The alleged offenses relate to the publication in 2010 and 2011 by WikiLeaks of a huge trove of classified material that painted a bleak picture of the American campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and their aftermath.
Mr. Assange has repeatedly defended his work and the wider WikiLeaks project as public-interest journalism that exposed wrongdoing by the U.S. and other governments.
The latest stage of the hearing, which had been due to take place in May but was pushed back when a nationwide lockdown to halt the coronavirus disrupted British courts, began Monday and is scheduled to last several weeks.
Lawyers say they would expect either side to appeal the initial ruling expected shortly after the hearing wraps up, meaning a final decision on Mr. Assange’s extradition may not be made until next year or 2022.
Mark Summers, a lawyer representing Mr. Assange, on Monday asked the court for an adjournment until January to give the defense time to answer fresh allegations against the WikiLeaks founder presented by the Justice Department in June.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused, saying the defense has had ample time since June to request an adjournment and shouldn’t have done so once proceedings were again under way. “The defense have had ample time to return to court and explain that they had insufficient time,” she said.
The U.S. case is that Mr. Assange broke the law by soliciting classified material from former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning and by helping her crack a password to obtain that material. Publication of the diplomatic cables and military logs she provided endangered the lives of U.S. intelligence sources, the U.S. government alleges.
In June, the Justice Department issued a fresh indictment that included new allegations that broadened the scope, the department said, of the conspiracy surrounding alleged computer intrusions with which Mr. Assange has been charged.
He is alleged between 2007 and 2015 to have encouraged and assisted hackers affiliated with the groups Anonymous and LulzSec to obtain classified information published by WikiLeaks, and to have played a role in helping Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor who in 2013 leaked details of clandestine surveillance programs to the press, to evade arrest.
Mr. Assange formally refused the U.S. extradition request when he appeared in court Monday. He denies that he solicited anything from Ms. Manning or helped her steal classified files. The defense argues that Mr. Assange’s prosecution is politically motivated, a potential bar to extradition under a bilateral treaty between the U.S. and U.K. that governs extradition requests. His lawyers also argue extradition to stand trial risks exposing Mr. Assange to degrading treatment in contravention of U.K. human rights law and undermines his rights to free expression.
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