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Julian Assange's Lawyers Accuse US of Peddling Lies, Complain of Prison Treatment

Police officers watch as demonstrators hold signs behind a barricade in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, outside Woolwich Crown Court, ahead of a hearing in London. (Reuters)

Police officers watch as demonstrators hold signs behind a barricade in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, outside Woolwich Crown Court, ahead of a hearing in London. (Reuters)

A lawyer for Julian Assange said the WikiLeaks founder was handcuffed 11 times, stripped naked twice and had court papers taken away on the first day of a hearing on his extradition to the US.

  • AFP
  • Last Updated: February 25, 2020, 10:29 PM IST
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London: A lawyer for Julian Assange on Tuesday accused the United States of "boldly and blatantly" misstating facts about the Wikileaks founder's conduct, on the second day of his extradition hearing in Britain.

Another lawyer complained that the WikiLeaks founder was handcuffed 11 times, stripped naked twice and had court papers taken away on the first day of the hearing.

Assange faces charges under the US Espionage Act for the 2010 release of a trove of secret files detailing aspects of US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Washington claims the 48-year-old Australian helped intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal the documents before recklessly exposing confidential sources around the world.

But defence lawyer Mark Summers argued much of the 18-charge US indictment Assange will face if extradited was "provably wrong", adding elements were "lies, lies and more lies".

"It's difficult to conceive of a clearer example of an extradition request that boldly and blatantly misstates the facts as they are known to be to the US government," he told a packed courtroom in southeast London. "You will have to determine in due course whether it is fair, accurate and proper," Summers told the judge.

Assange spent much of the past decade holed up in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid separate legal proceedings in Sweden but Washington is now seeking his transfer to stand trial.

The extradition hearing at Woolwich Crown Court, next to the high-security Belmarsh prison where he is being held, is expected to last five days before reconvening in May.

Assange, wearing a grey blazer and a sweater over a collared shirt in court, listened impassively Tuesday as dozens of protesters rallied for a second day outside.

WikiLeaks initially worked with newspapers to publish details from the leaked State Department and Pentagon files, which caused a sensation and outrage in Washington.

Summers said the partnership with media outlets had led to a rigorous redaction process that included liaising with US officials to ensure sources names were not revealed.

"That process involved the US government and state department feeding suggested redactions to the media," he added.

But Summers said a 2011 book by a journalist from The Guardian revealed the password needed to access the database of unredacted source names and ensured the cache eventually found its way online.

He told the court Assange had made a phone call to the White House alerting US officials of the imminent release on various websites, allegedly warning: "Unless you do something, then people's lives are put at risk." "The notion that Mr Assange deliberately put lives at risk by dumping an unredacted database is knowingly inaccurate," Summers said.

The Guardian later said in a statement that "it is entirely wrong" to say the 2011 book led to the publication of unredacted US government files.

"The book contained a password which the authors had been told by Julian Assange was temporary and would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours," it said.

"The book also contained no details about the whereabouts of the files." On Monday James Lewis, a lawyer for the US, accused Assange of risking the lives of intelligence sources by publishing classified documents.

"The United States is aware of sources whose unredacted names and/or other identifying information was contained in classified documents published by Wikileaks who subsequently disappeared," he said.

Meanwhile, Attorney Edward Fitzgerald told a judge that the treatment of Assange at London's Belmarsh Prison could be a contempt of this court. The extradition hearing opened on Monday.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who is hearing the case, said she had no power to act unless Assange became unable to participate in the proceedings, which are expected to last several months. "If it comes to that, please let me know, the judge said.

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