Julian Assange Starts Extradition Fight From UK Prison
LONDON -- Julian Assange appeared in a London court by videolink from a high-security prison on Thursday as his battle against extradition to the United States on a computer hacking conspiracy charge gets underway.
Assange, speaking from Belmarsh prison, was wearing a sports jacket and was not handcuffed.
Asked by Judge Michael Snow if he wished to consent to surrender himself for extradition, Assange said: "I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that's won many, many awards and affected many people."
This was the second court appearance of the week for the 47-year-old WikiLeaks founder, who on Wednesday was handed a jail term of almost a year for skipping bail in 2012 when he sought political asylum in the London's Ecuadorian embassy.
Assange was wanted in Sweden for questioning over sexual assault and rape allegations. The Australian whistleblower -- who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing -- said he sought refuge over fears of onward rendition from Sweden to the US due to his work with WikiLeaks.
His near seven-year stint in the embassy was brought to a dramatic close on April 11 when Ecuador withdrew his asylum and invited in British police, citing Assange's bad behavior. He was then forcibly hauled out by officers.
Thursday marks the start of what is expected to be a long and protracted extradition fight. Hours after Assange was removed from the embassy last month, it emerged he had been also arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the US.
Prosecutors there have charged the Australian computer programmer with helping former US Army intelligence specialist Chelsea Manning break into US Defense Department systems. That offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison but US prosecutors have already signaled more charges could be on the way.
WikiLeaks' Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said he was "shocked and appalled by this decision to sentence Julian to two weeks short of the maximum sentence for not showing up in court."
He added that the US extradition claim is "where the real battle begins."
"Everything in this case seems to indicate that what is being established is a violation of the espionage act of 1970 which carries the death penalty," Hrafnsson explained. "Although the extradition is based on a lower level of offenses, we think that is basically a snaring strategy to get him to United States where additional charges will be added."
Extradition requests to the UK from outside the European Union are governed by Part 2 of the Extradition Act 2003. When reviewing the US extradition claim, it will not be for the UK courts to determine culpability. A judge only determines whether the US request satisfies the "dual criminality" legal requirement -- meaning that the alleged crime is illegal in both countries. The judge would also consider if granting extradition would breach his human rights.
If satisfied that the claim meets procedural conditions, the case would be sent to the British home secretary for a final decision on ordering the extradition.
Assange's legal team are yet to reveal their defense strategy but are likely to argue that the extradition request is politically motivated and that he would not be able to receive a fair trial in the US, according to Nick Vamos, the former head of extradition at the Crown Prosecution Service where he was responsible for the case.
"It's going to be one of those where he throws the kitchen sink at it, I think that's clear," Vamos said
Vamos said "a whiff of political motivation" is not enough to prevent extradition.
"What you need to prove is that the entire proceedings are corrupted and tainted by politics and that the person who is being prosecuted solely or primarily on the basis of their political beliefs, their political opinions, or political activities," he explained.
(PHOTO: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)