Edward Fitzgerald, Julian Assange’s lawyer before the extradition lawsuit filed by a US court, has asked the magistrate, Vanessa Baraitser, to reject the petition because the charges filed against the Wikileaks employer are political and as such are excluded from extradition treaties between countries and specifically in Article 4 of the one signed in 2003 between London and Washington.
That perspective is shared by directors of the United States, from the Wall Street Journal to the USA Today, by the International Federation of Journalists, by Amnesty International, among others. They share the criterion that journalists should not be prosecuted for the publication of documents that would prove war crimes or allegedly criminal actions of State agents.
The lawyer representing the lawsuit of the East Virginia court in Washington raised a technical issue on Wednesday, which would elude the substantive argument. For James Lewis, the defense of Assange aims to avoid extradition by citing the Extradition Treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States, which rules out the prosecution of a defendant for “a political crime”, but that treaty would not give rights to Assange.
For Lewis, the British extradition law of 2003 governs this procedure and there is no protection for “political crime” in that long law. Judge Baraitser asked the lawyers if she should rely for her trial only on domestic law. It was a question that seemed to guess a positive response. Fitzgerald told him, however, that he must take into account domestic and international law, under penalty of committing procedural abuse.
The praise of President Donald Trump to Wikileaks during his election campaign has now become an eagerness to condemn Assange to 175 years in jail. His interference with the administration of Justice is already noticeable, while the highest-ranking British courts have been criticized by politicians and conservative media in recent months, following various decisions on the ‘brexit’ that hurt the Government.
This Wednesday’s session has exposed the ideas that will color the progress of the trial and perhaps the relations between London and Washington in the coming months. The issue that divides the parties about the political nature of the Wikileaks publications or their discarding due to technical issues can justify appeals to higher British instances and end in the European Court of Human Rights.
The security measures applied to Assange by the officials of the Belmarsh prison, adjacent to the court, seem excessive (naked frisks, handcuffed eleven times, five cell movements, …). It includes restrictions to communicate with your lawyers from the glazed cabin from which you attend the trial, accompanied by two guards. The judge agreed that Fitzgerald will present arguments this Thursday in favor of Assange being allowed to sit next to his legal defenders.