Julian Assange has been told by a judge that he must appear at his next court hearing or provide up-to-date medical evidence to explain why he can not.
District judge Vanessa Baraitser made the ruling after being told the Wikileaks founder was said to be too ill to attend Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday for the latest administrative hearing in his extradition case.
Mr Assange is wanted in the US to face 17 charges under the Espionage Act and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion after the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011.
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His full extradition hearing began in February but was interrupted by the coronavirus lockdown. The 48-year-old Australian is currently being held in London’s maximum-security Belmarsh prison while the court system tries to reschedule his extradition hearing.
Mr Assange’s barrister Mark Summers QC told the court his client did not appear by video link because he was unwell.
Mr Summers said the medical issues related to Mr Assange attending the court via an unventilated video booth. His lawyers say he has had past respiratory illnesses making him susceptible to Covid-19.
He added that he was surprised US authorities issued a new and wider indictment last week against Mr Assange. “We are to say the least surprised by the timing of this development,” he said.
Mr Assange’s legal team had heard about the latest indictment through the press and is waiting to be served with it, he said.
In adjourning the case to July 27 at 10am, Judge Baraister said Mr Assange must appear via video link “unless there is medical evidence” to explain his non-attendance.
His full extradition hearing is currently set to take place on 7 September, having originally been scheduled for 18 May. Judge Baraister said the case would “almost certainly” be now held at London’s Old Bailey criminal court.
Mr Assange, who is facing the prospect of in prison if convicted in the US, has called the case against him a threat to free speech. Washington says he put the lives of informants in danger by publishing secret diplomatic cables.
Additional reporting by agencies