Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who is fighting to avoid extradition to the United States from Britain, was warned by a judge on Tuesday he will be removed from the courtroom and tried in his absence if he continues to interrupt proceedings.
The U.S. authorities accuse Australian-born Assange, 49, of conspiring to hack government computers and of violating an espionage law in connection with the release of confidential cables by WikiLeaks in 2010-2011.Assange shouted “nonsense” as James Lewis, a lawyer acting for the U.S. government told a witness that the Wikileaks founder was facing extradition proceedings over the publication of informants’ names and not for handling leaked documents.The Judge Vanessa Baraitser told Assange, who was in the dock, that he must not speak out even though he will hear things he disagrees with and will want to challenge.
“If you interrupt proceedings and disrupt a witness who is properly giving their evidence it is open to me to continue without you in your absence,” Baraitser said.
“This is obviously not something I wish to do. I am, therefore, giving you a clear warning.”
This was the second time Assange had appeared in court since his extradition hearings resumed on Monday. They started in February but were postponed for a few months before being further delayed because of a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Assange and WikiLeaks enraged the U.S. government a decade ago by publishing thousands of secret American documents. Assange’s supporters see him as a champion of free speech exposing abuses of power and hypocrisy by Washington.
U.S. authorities say he is wanted not because he embarrassed them but because he endangered informants, dissidents and rights activists in several countries, including Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
From the start, the charges against Mr. Assange have raised profound First Amendment issues because his actions are difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from those of traditional news organizations. It would be unprecedented in American law for such activity to result in criminal convictions, so press freedom advocates have denounced the charges against him and have been watching the case closely.