On Wednesday 01 May, a British court sentenced Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to 50 weeks in jail. This is considered a very severe sentence for breach of bail which is usually punished by a fine or a few weeks in prison. Sentencing him at Southwark Crown Court Judge Deborah Taylor told the Australian, who was present in the court, it was difficult to envisage a more serious example of the offence.
“By hiding in the embassy, you deliberately put yourself out of reach while remaining in the UK,” she said.
She said this had “undoubtedly” affected the progress of the Swedish proceedings.
His continued residence at the embassy and bringing him to justice had cost taxpayers £16m, she added.
It might have been pointed out to her Ladyship that the cost of protecting Tony Blair’s numerous homes (some estimate that he has 36 properties) runs in to a much higher figure.
Then on Thursday 02 May, Julian appeared by video link at a preliminary extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Marylebone Road. The hearing was held in courtroom number three which apparently has very limited public seating while journalists get 31 places.
I tried to enter with my NUJ press card but was told that all the press passes had gone. I spoke to fellow journalist Patrick Henningsen, founder of news website 21st Century Wire and who frequently appears on RT. He had the same experience. I watched the 31 journalists who filed in to the press box but did not recognise any of them.
I spoke to RT journalist Polly Boiko who also failed to get in to the press gallery said she had to rely on tweets from colleagues to make her report.
The hearing which was scheduled for 10am eventually started at 11:15 with a huge queue of those wanting to go in the public gallery. They were all refused entry which virtually made the hearing a secret court or star chamber.
Assange was asked by the judge Michael Snow if he wanted to voluntarily go to the United States, to which the Wikileaks founder said no. This means he will stay in Belmarsh prison.
The Australian media were represented by the ABC and SBS. There was a Russian TV team as well as RT and the BBC were there also. France 24 were there as well as a number of French gilets jaunes. CNN were also present.
After the hearing Julian’s counsel, Australian born QC Jennifer Robinson, addressed the assembly outside and made the point that she was very concerned about his health.
The Wikileaks editor in chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said that in Belmarsh prison Julian was confined to his cell 23 hours out of 24 which was virtually solitary confinement.
The demonstration outside the court was large and loud and after the hearing many of the protesters blocked Marylebone Road for a full 45 minutes before a number of police arrived. Many of the passing cars before and after the blockade honked their horns in sympathy with the protesters.
After the court hearing a number of Julian’s supporters went to the Ecuadorian Embassy where Kristinn Hrafnsson the editor in chief of Wikileaks asked for Julian’s personal property. He was refused.
This case has very serious implications for freedom of speech. If Julian is to be extradited to the US to possibly be put in a supermax prison for many years, what about other journalists and whistle blowers?
While RT gave a reasonable six minutes of its news coverage to the hearing the BBC1 10 O’clock news gave a paltry 15 seconds.
Here is the RT news website report: https://www.rt.com/news/458215-wikileaks-editor-entry-ecuadorian-embassy/
Julian is still in the tough Belmarsh prison and I would encourage all those sympathetic to him to send him a letter or card to:
DOB: 03 July 1971
London SE28 0EB