Udayavni Special

Hero or criminal? Court hears 2 views of WikiLeaks’ Assange

Team Udayavani, Feb 25, 2020, 9:45 AM IST

London: Truth-telling journalist or reckless criminal: A British judge was given two conflicting portraits of Julian Assange as the WikiLeaks founder’s long-awaited extradition hearing began Monday in a London court.

A lawyer for the US authorities, who want to try Assange on espionage charges, said the Australian computer expert was an ordinary criminal whose publication of hundreds of thousands of secret military documents put many people at risk of torture and death.

Reporting or journalism is not an excuse for criminal activities or a license to break ordinary criminal laws,” said James Lewis, a British lawyer representing the US government.

Assange’s lawyer countered that the WikiLeaks publisher was being victimized by a lawless American government that wanted to make an example of him.

Attorney Edward Fitzgerald also said the inhuman conditions Assange would face in an American prison put him at high risk of suicide.

Dozens of Assange supporters protested outside the high-security Woolwich Crown Court, chanting and setting off a horn as District Judge Vanessa Baraitser began hearing the case, which is due to last several months.

Assange, 48, watched proceedings from the dock in the courtroom he was brought there from Belmarsh Prison next door. He complained that he was having difficulty concentrating and called the noise from outside not helpful.

Assange has been indicted in the US on 18 charges over the publication of classified documents. Prosecutors say he conspired with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password and hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange argues he was acting as a journalist entitled to First Amendment protection, and says the leaked documents exposed U.S. military wrongdoing.

Among the files published by WikiLeaks was video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.

But Lewis said Assange was guilty of straightforward” criminal activity in trying to hack the computer. And he said WikiLeaks’ activities created a grave and imminent risk to U.S. intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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