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Julian Assange struggled to say his own name and date of birth when he appeared for his latest extradition hearing Monday morning. “I can’t think properly,” he told the judges.
The WikiLeaks founder appeared in a London court clean-shaven, wearing a blue suit, and holding a bundle of papers. He raised a defiant fist to his supporters in the public gallery when he entered the room, but on the stand, the effects of his six-months long detention in the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison became obvious.
The 48-year-old, who’s facing up to 175 years in prison if he’s sent back to the U.S., told the court he was “in fear for his life” and struggled to say his name and date of birth. In fact, he admitted he didn’t really understand what was going on.
In May, Assange was deemed so unwell that he was unable to appear at a court hearing via video link from Belmarsh Prison. He was moved to the prison’s hospital wing after a “dramatic” loss of weight, according to WikiLeaks.
Last month, Assange’s father also said his son was being kept in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day in conditions he described as “sordid and hysterical.”
In court Monday, Assange complained about not having access to a computer while in jail and said he was battling against a “superpower” with “unlimited resources.” In May, the U.S. charged Assange with conspiring to help U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning break into the computer systems of the Pentagon as well as sharing a disseminating top-secret U.S. government information under the Espionage Act
U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid already signed an extradition request, but the courts will now decide if Assange should be sent to the U.S. to face trial. Even if a judge grants the U.S. application, the movie will still require the sign-off from whoever is home secretary at the time.
“I don’t understand how this is equitable,” Assange told Judge Vanessa Baraitser Monday. “This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case, and I can’t access my writings. It’s very difficult where I am to do anything, but these people have unlimited resources.”
Assange’s legal team applied to the court for a delay, claiming the extradition effort was “politically motivated” and a “war on whistleblowers. But the judge denied the request, and the final hearing will begin as planned on Feb. 25, 2020.
Assange has been behind bars since April when he was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London which had been his home for the previous seven years after he sought to avoid facing allegations of rape in Sweden. Assange has already served a sentence for skipping bail back in 2011.
Assange and his team have always claimed that the U.S. prosecution, initiated by Barack Obama and reinvigorated under Donald Trump, threatens freedom of the press. They claim that a conviction under the Espionage Act would mean that anyone who publishes sensitive national security materials could face a similar prosecution.
Assange’s lawyer Mark Sommers claimed in court that the U.S. government “has been actively engaged in intruding on privileged discussions between Mr. Assange and his lawyer.”
Outside Westminister Magistrates Court on Monday supporters of Assange, held a protest organized by the Socialist Equality party, chanting “Free Julian Assange” and “No extradition, there’s only one decision.”
Cover image: File photo dated 11/04/19 of Julian Assange who is expected to appear in person in court today, as his extradition case continues. (Victoria Jones/PA Wire URN:47760186) (Press Association via AP Images)