Assange wanted for 'indiscriminately' publishing sources' names, U.S. lawyers say


  • World
  • Wednesday, 21 Feb 2024

A person holds a placard depicting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as his supporters protest outside the high court on the day Assange appeals against his extradition to the United States, in London, Britain, February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) -Julian Assange is being prosecuted for publishing sources' names and not his political opinions, lawyers representing the United States said on Wednesday as the WikiLeaks founder fights to stop his extradition from Britain.

U.S. prosecutors are seeking to put Assange, 52, on trial over WikiLeaks' high-profile release of vast troves of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables.

They argue the leaks imperiled the lives of their agents and there was no excuse for his criminality. Assange's supporters, however, hail him as a journalist and a hero who is being persecuted for exposing U.S. wrongdoing.

Assange's lawyers told London's High Court on Tuesday that the case was politically motivated, arguing Assange was targeted for his exposure of "state-level crimes" and that former U.S. President Donald Trump had requested "detailed options" on how to kill him.

But, on Wednesday, lawyers for the U.S. said Assange's prosecution was "based on the rule of law and evidence".

Clair Dobbin told the court: "The appellant's prosecution might be unprecedented, but what he did was unprecedented."

Assange "indiscriminately and knowingly published to the world the names of individuals who acted as sources of information to the U.S.", Dobbin said.

"It is these facts which distinguish him, not his political opinions," she added.

Dobbin also responded to Assange's lawyers who cited an alleged U.S. plan to kidnap or murder Assange while he was in London's Ecuadorean embassy, reported by Yahoo News in 2021.

She said the United States had given assurances about how Assange would be treated that "wholly undermine this suggestion ... that anything could happen to him".

ASSANGE NOT AN 'ORDINARY JOURNALIST'

Dobbin argued that the material Wikileaks published was obtained by encouraging people to steal documents and contained unredacted names of U.S. sources.

Therefore Assange could not be "treated as akin to an ordinary journalist or Wikileaks akin to an ordinary publisher", she said.

Assange himself was again not in court on Wednesday nor watching remotely because he was unwell, his lawyers and his wife Stella Assange said.

The Australian's legal battles began in 2010, and he spent seven years holed up in Ecuador's embassy before he was dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions.

He has been held in a maximum-security jail in London ever since, even getting married there, while Britain finally approved his extradition to the U.S. in 2022.

Assange's lawyers say that he could be given a sentence as long as 175 years, but likely to be at least 30 to 40 years. U.S. prosecutors have said it would be no more than 63 months.

If Assange wins this case, a full appeal hearing will be held. If he loses, his only remaining option would be at the European Court of Human Rights and his wife has said his lawyers would apply to the European judges for an emergency injunction if necessary.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; Editing by Ros Russell)

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