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Judge Gave Julian Assange a ‘Clear Warning’ After WikiLeaks Founder Said Lawyer for U.S. Was Speaking ‘Nonsense’ in Court


LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 01: Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange leaves Southwark Crown Court in a security van after being sentenced on May 1, 2019 in London, England. Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange, 47, was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions when he took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, charges he denies. The UK will now decide whether to extradite him to US to face conspiracy charges after his whistle-blowing website Wikileaks published classified US documents.

The London judge presiding over Julian Assange’s extradition hearings gave the WikiLeaks founder a “clear warning” on Tuesday that additional outbursts would leave her no choice but to bar him from appearing in court.

Assange “shouted,” according to Reuters, that James Lewisa British lawyer who was speaking on behalf of the U.S. government—was making “nonsense” claims about his actions. The U.S. government has accused Assange of a variety of crimes several times over, hence the extradition hearings. The U.S. government wants Assange moved from the United Kingdom to the United States so a prosecution can proceed.

Assange is, of course, fighting extradition. Hearings resumed Monday after a months-long pause due to COVID-19 concerns.

Assange was initially charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in a seven-page indictment dated March 6, 2018. The government alleged that Assange and former Army Intelligence Analyst Chelsea Manning hacked into a military computer. Assange played a role “in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States,” the DOJ claimed. “Assange and others at WikiLeaks recruited and agreed with hackers to commit computer intrusions to benefit WikiLeaks.”

Judge Vanessa Baraitser admonished Assange for shouting in court. Assange apparently took exception to a claim Lewis made, per Reuters:

Assange shouted “nonsense” as James Lewis, a lawyer acting for the U.S. government told a witness that the Wikileaks founder was facing extradition proceedings over the publication of informants’ names and not for handling leaked documents.

Lewis has claimed before that Assange’s publication of leaked documents endangered lives.

Baraitser said she would continue proceedings in Assange’s absence if he again interrupts a “witness who is properly giving their evidence.” The judge said Assange has been given a “clear warning.”

While the U.S. government argues Assange’s publications are not protected by the First Amendment, Assange and his supporters maintain that “It is not a crime to publish American war crimes” (see here).

In a 37-page superseding indictment from May 2019, Assange was charged with eighteen counts, including conspiracy to obtain, receive, and disclose national defense information; unauthorized obtaining of national defense information; attempted unauthorized obtaining of national defense information; unauthorized obtaining and receiving of national defense information; unauthorized disclosure of national defense information; and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

In June, a federal grand jury returned a third charging document against Assange. The new document, a second superseding indictment, “broaden[ed] the scope of the conspiracy surrounding alleged computer intrusions with which Assange was previously charged,” the U.S. Department of Justice said.

The documents alleged that “Assange communicated directly with a leader of the hacking group LulzSec (who by then was cooperating with the FBI), and provided a list of targets for LulzSec to hack,” per a DOJ press release. “With respect to one target, Assange asked the LulzSec leader to look for (and provide to WikiLeaks) mail and documents, databases and pdfs. In another communication, Assange told the LulzSec leader that the most impactful release of hacked materials would be from the CIA, NSA, or the New York Times.”

Aaron Keller contributed to this report.

[Image via Jack Taylor/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.