Sitting in the Central Criminal Court in London Monday, British judge Vanessa Baraitser refused an application for adjournment of proceedings in Julian Assange’s extradition case until January 2021.
In late June, the US Department of Justice issued an updated, superseding indictment, charging Assange, the founder and public face of WikiLeaks, with 18 counts related to his recruitment of sources to illegally access information and his publication of that information. Seventeen of the counts in the indictment are violations of the Espionage Act.
The indictment outlines Assange’s role in motivating others to hack sensitive information, such as promoting WikiLeaks’ “Most Wanted Leaks” at hacking conferences. The indictment also describes Assange’s collaboration with whistleblowers, including Chelsea Manning, and with hacking groups like “Anonymous” and “LulzSec.” Assange allegedly gave suggested directions to these groups to steal information from governments and banks and at times participated directly in their efforts, such as trying to assist in cracking an encrypted password.
Because of the new information contained in the updated indictment, Assange’s defense argued that the evidentiary hearing should be adjourned. The judge denied the request, saying that the defense should have acted earlier to argue for postponing the proceedings.
During the hearing, University of Maryland journalism professor Mark Feldstein, an historian with decades-long experience in investigative reporting, testified remotely as an expert witness. He began by framing the prosecution as a part of US President Donald Trump’s “relentless campaign” against the media. Feldstein asserted that “the administration’s prosecution of Julian Assange is part and parcel of its campaign against the news media as a whole.” According to Feldstein, though WikiLeaks is not a conventional news organization and Assange is not exactly a journalist, his prosecution threatens the protections that the First Amendment has been interpreted to provide for journalists who obtain and publish government secrets.
Feldstein will complete his testimony and other witnesses will appear as the hearing continues.