Supporters gather for Assange court extradition showdown

LONDON (AP) – Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the United States (US) government squared off in a London court yesterday at a high-stakes extradition case delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Assange, who has spent almost a year and a half in a British prison, sat in the dock at the Old Bailey criminal court and formally refused the US extradition request.

Several dozen supporters, including fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Assange’s partner Stella Moris, gathered outside the courthouse before the hearing.

American prosecutors have indicted the 49-year-old Australian on 18 espionage and computer misuse charges over Wikileaks’ publication of secret US military documents a decade ago.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

American authorities allege that Assange conspired with US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a new indictment filed in June, US prosecutors also said he conspired with members of hacking organisations and sought to recruit hackers to provide WikiLeaks with classified information.

That indictment expanded the US case against Assange but did not add any new charges.

British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood poses for photos during a protest to support Julian Assange outside the Central Criminal Court Old Bailey in London. PHOTO: AP