On the 7th of April Julian Assange’s defence requested that the May’s scheduled extradition hearing be postponed to September due to the disruptions caused to proceedings by the Corona Virus. She refused the request.
In March she already refused to grant him bail to protect him from the risk of contracting the virus. WSWS reports that Dr Stephen Frost from Doctors4Assange said: “Mr. Assange must be assumed by doctors to be severely immunocompromised and therefore at greatly increased risk of contracting and dying from coronavirus in any prison, but especially in a prison such as Belmarsh. Every extra day Mr. Assange is incarcerated in Belmarsh prison constitutes an increased threat to his life.”
His continued incarceration is at least barbaric. “Baraitser has insisted through the entire process, including the four days of extradition hearings now passed, that Assange deserves to remain caged and monitored” says Binoy Kampmark. How can we respect the rule of law when it is turned against every sense of justice? But let’s hear from an eye witness at yesterday’s court to understand about the climate inside the court room.
Judge Baraitser and two court people were present. The defence and the prosecution teams interacted via telephone (audio). There were present five press people, Australian Associated Press http://www.aap.com.au, Central News Agency http://www.courtnews.co.uk Computer Weekly and Sputnik among them. You can follow the hyperlinks to read their reports. There were five witnesses present in the public gallery in court 9, including myself.
There were technical problems so the hearing started almost 1 hour late at 10:56 am. There were also sound problems and annoying machine voice recording interruptions during the hearing, repeating “Half length to the conference”, etc.
Julian Assange did not appear via video link, apparently he is unwell; others said he did not have to appear this time. I am personally worry none of us were able to see him via video link nor heard him via audio link so I hope he is well and it was not compulsory to appear today.
The hearing started with the issue that some names have not been disclosed to court (During the last bail application, the defence stated that Assange’s partner and his children want to remain anonymous) , Baraitser said it has to be “open justice”, and that Assange’s partner name should be made public so that there is an “open court”. Quite hypocritical as her decision of continuing hearings in Belmarsh is not very open justice nor very open court either. We as public had constant problems with court access, so much for an open court.
Westminster Magistrates Court ruled that Julian Assange's trial is set to proceed as planned in May, despite restrictions due to the #COVID19.
— RT UK (@RTUKnews) April 7, 2020
Baraitser also said that Assange’s children are not in school and she did not think they were in any sort of danger by the US intelligence agencies even if it is true that the CIA asked UC Global to steal one of the babies’ nappy to do a DNA test to see if Julian was a father. But I did not understand exactly what was she trying to say with this, English is not my first language but whatever it was, for me it sounded quite rude. She continue saying there is not evidence that Assange’s partner and children are at any risk, there is not particular proof and due to the principles of “Open Justice” press restrictions on reporting the names shouldn’t continue. The defence made clear again that Assange’s partner and his children want to continue to live a quiet, private life and that lifting their anonymity will shutter that privacy.
There was a woman talking via audio saying she is very concerned about Julian’s welfare and the defence was also mentioning about the risk of Julian being infected with coronavirus.
According to @wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, government officials are risking Julian #Assange’s life by keeping him imprisoned in a location that is already believed to be covering up cases of #COVID19. Meanwhile, actual criminals are being set free… pic.twitter.com/2FzP3BpzPN
— RT (@RT_com) April 7, 2020
On the issue of the next May hearing, the defence also said it is not possible for Assange to respond to it due to the circumstances, because they have not been able to have any reasonable or proper communication with him due to his isolation and the government restrictions has affected their instructions, making it very difficult for them to interact with him via video link, calls, etc…. in order to receive his instruction about evidence. Mr. Fitzgerald sounded very worried about this issue… he was literally saying in a desperate way: “If at least we can have access to a minimum communication it would be good, but it has not been and it won’t be possible due to government restrictions” due to the Covid-19. They were also very concerned about welfare issues, mentioning that the psychological therapy sessions are no longer available for Assange, again due to restrictions.
To the above issue, Baraitser replied that the 18 May extradition hearing will continue as planned as she cannot assume the court would not be working as normal. She also said that in summer instructions from the government are likely to change, but she cannot make assumptions about the future. In response to the prosecution about some German witnesses, she said there is urgency to finish it and the German witnesses will have to appear via video link.
Then they were discussing about dates for the next Administrative hearing for this month, April, and Baraitser asked the defence for a transcript about their private conversation with Assange on 25 March. She reminded everyone: “There is not transcript (recording) today at court”. She also asked both teams (defence and prosecution) for the 4th statement and agreed with the prosecution to appear via video link at the next Belmarsh hearing.
Then the defence (Summers) asked Baraitser to keep press restrictions on reporting the name of JA’s partner until the High Court makes their decision in regards to Assange’s partner and children’s identity remaining private. She then asked the defence to deal with her proposal about making it public writing an e-mail to her while we all come back from the hearing break at 1pm.
When we came back after the break, Baraitser received the defence e-mail and read it loud, it said “No objections to her review…etc.” I did not understand much this, but later journalist Mohamed El Maazi from Sputnik explained to me that basically the judge (Baraitser), the lawyers and the press know the names of Assange’s partner and children, but they are not allowed to make it public for the moment and the defence has until 14th April to apply to the High Court about keeping their names private. If defence does not apply by the 14th then the media will be able to disclose those names to the public.
Baraitser finished settling the next hearing on 22 April at Belmarsh, and it will be a closed court so nobody can go there. Then she left the room almost running!
Claudia’s Report can be visited in Facebook by pressing here.
Here is further witnessing by Deepa Driver being interviewed by Elisabeth Vos for Consortium News.