Julian Assange has said he should not be extradited to the US for computer hacking because of his ‘award-winning journalism that has protected many people’.
The WikiLeaks founder appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court for his first extradition hearing since being hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he hid for nearly seven years.
He is charged in the US for scheming with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break the password of a classified Pentagon computer.
The WikiLeaks founder (pictured yesterday) appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court for his first extradition hearing today
Protesters at Westminster Magistrates Court today, where Assange’s case was heard today
The Australian, wearing jeans, a dark jacket and light coloured top, appeared via videolink from Belmarsh prison to a packed courtroom today. .
He formally refused to consent to being extradited, during a hearing which lasted a little over 10 minutes.
The 47-year-old said: ‘I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many awards and protected many people.’
Shortly after Assange was removed from the Embassy on April 11 this year, US prosecutors announced that he had been charged with conspiring alongside intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to infiltrate a Pentagon computer.
The charge carries a maximum of five years’ imprisonment and relates to Assange’s ‘alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information’ in US history.
Prosecutors claim he assisted Manning in cracking a password to help her leak classified records to the whistleblowing website.
Classified documents allegedly downloaded included approximately 90,000 Afghan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activity reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessments and 250,000 US State Department cables, the court heard.
District Judge Michael Snow remanded Assange into custody to appear via video link again at the same court on May 30 for a further case management hearing.
Dozens of protesters are outside the court to prepare for the hearing, which took place in a small courtroom despite the crowds of people wanting to watch
The extradition appearance came a day after the 47-year-old was sentenced to 50 weeks’ jail for breaching bail when he failed to surrender to police in 2012.
Assange was convicted of the bail breach after entering the Ecuadorian embassy and claiming political asylum while wanted over allegations of sexual offences in Sweden, which he denies.
A large group of his supporters gathered both inside and outside the court building on Thursday morning to offer solidarity. Some of those who who got inside court three for the hearing had to stand or sat on the floor.
Lauri Love, whose saw his own extradition decision over allegations he hacked US government computer networks overturned by the High Court last year, was among them.
Judges had ruled the extradition of Mr Love, who has Asperger’s ‘would be oppressive by reason of his physical and mental condition’.
The 34-year-old from Suffolk, said he came to court to ‘keep an eye on the process and make sure that it’s done as fairly as possible’.
He said: ‘I’ve been through this whole mill so I am supporting Julian in opposing extradition to the US where I think he would, like myself, not have a very strong chance of having a fair trial.
‘I know how traumatic this ordeal can be, years of having to be afraid of being taken to another country and treated badly.’
The 47-year-old is currently serving a 50-week prison sentence which was issued to him yesterday (where he is seen in a court sketch greeting supporters) for jumping bail in 2012
Yesterday, in mitigation for Assange, Mark Summers QC told the court his client had been ‘gripped’ by fears of extradition to the US over the years because of his work with WikiLeaks.
He said: ‘As threats rained down on him from America, they overshadowed everything as far as he was concerned. They dominated his thoughts. They were not invented by him, they were gripping him throughout.’
Mr Summers said Assange’s fears that he could face rendition from Sweden to the US were well founded and ‘not a figment of his imagination’.
Sweden at the time, he said, had a ‘well documented and unfortunate history’ of sending ‘people to states where they were at significant risk of ill treatment including torture and death’.
There were reports of discussions between Sweden and the US over the matter, Mr Summers said. ‘That’s not a figment of his imagination,’ he added. ‘They were reasonable fears.’