The week-long hearing, which started on 24 February, will determine whether the WikiLeaks’ founder will be extradited to the US at Washington’s request. The US is seeking to prosecute Assange over allegedly stealing and leaking secret American cables and war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq.
WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson has stated that he was banned from the hearings on Assange’s extradition to the US without being given any explanation, a Sputnik correspondent reported from the scene.
The editor-in-chief was the only person barred from visiting the court hearings.
“Only minutes before the hearing started, my name was called out outside the public gallery. […] I was told that the court had decided to ban me from the public gallery altogether. I got no reason, there was no reason given for that decision. Simply, that the editor of WikiLeaks was banned from the public gallery in this hearing”, he said.
Hrafnsson added that he was “outraged” by the court’s decision to bar him from attending “the most important hearing, to the fate of WikiLeaks” and Julian Assange. Assange’s father, John Shipton, in turn said that the whistleblower’s family also walked out of the hearing in solidarity with Hrafnsson.
“We are outside with Kristinn [… ] so we won’t go back into the hearing, until the situation changes”, he said.
Assange’s solicitor, Gareth Piece, intervened in the situation demanding Hrafnsson’s return to the public gallery, which he was later granted. The court, however, didn’t offer any explanation or apology regarding the situation.
The hearings on Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, started on 24 February and will determine whether he will be extradited to the US to face Washington’s criminal charges against him. The American government accuses Assange of conspiring to hack into the Pentagon’s computer system to steal classified data and of later publishing this data on his website. Washington’s barrister James Lewis claims that his actions have put US government sources at “grave and imminent risk”.
Assange received the secret cables from US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning and published them on WikiLeaks in 2010. The publication led to a series of scandals as the documents revealed tensions between the US and its allies, as well as Washington’s surveillance on them.
The WikiLeaks founder insists that the case against him is politically motivated. He had been hiding from the US government in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the UK until he was dragged out of it in April 2019. By doing so Assange violated a UK court’s bail conditions on another case against him and as a result was slapped with the short prison term he is serving right now.