London: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in a London court by videolink from a high-security jail on Thursday as his fight against extradition to the US on a computer hacking conspiracy charge gets underway.
Speaking from Belmarsh prison, Assange was wearing a sports jacket and was not handcuffed. Asked by Judge Michael Snow if he wished to consent to surrender himself for extradition, the 47-year-old said: “I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that’s won many, many awards and affected many people.”
This was his second court appearance in this week. He was on Wednesday handed a jail term of 50 weeks for skipping bail in 2012 when he sought political asylum in the London’s Ecuadorian Embassy, CNN reported.
Assange was wanted in Sweden for questioning over sexual assault and rape allegations. The Australian
whistleblower — who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing — said he sought refuge over fears of onward rendition from Sweden to the US due to his work with WikiLeaks.
His near seven-year stint in the Embassy was brought to a dramatic close on April 11 when Ecuador withdrew his asylum and invited in the British police, citing Assange’s bad behaviour. He was then forcibly hauled out by officers.
Hours after Assange was removed from the Embassy in April, it emerged he had been also arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the US.
Prosecutors there charged him with helping former US Army intelligence specialist Chelsea Manning break into US Defence Department systems. That offence carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison but US prosecutors already signalled more charges could be on the way.
WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said he was “shocked and appalled” by Assange’s bail violation sentencing “for not showing up in court”.
He added that the US extradition claim is “where the real battle begins”.
“Everything in this case seems to indicate that what is being established is a violation of the espionage act of 1970 which carries the death penalty,” Hrafnsson said.
“Although the extradition is based on a lower level of offences, we think that is basically a snaring strategy to get him to US where additional charges will be added.”