UK judge rejects bid to delay Assange extradition hearing

London, AP/UNB, Sept 08 – A British judge on Monday rejected a request by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s lawyers for to delay his extradition hearing until the next year.
His lawyers requested to give more time to respond to US allegations that he conspired with hackers to obtain classified information. The adjournment request came on the first day of a London court hearing where Assange is fighting American prosecutors’ attempt to send him to the US to stand trial on spying charges.
US prosecutors have indicted the 49-year-old Australian on 18 espionage and computer misuse charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US military documents a decade ago.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Assange’s lawyers say the prosecution is a politically motivated abuse of power that will stifle press freedom and put journalists around the world at risk.
The US Justice Department expanded its case against Assange in a new indictment announced in June, though it did not introduce new charges.
But Assange attorney Mark Summers said it was “an impossible task” for the legal team to deal with the new allegations in time for Monday’s court hearing, especially since they had only “limited access” to the imprisoned Assange.
He said District Judge Vanessa Baraitser should excise the new American claims, which he said were sprung on the defense “out of the blue.”
The judge rejected the request, saying the defense had declined an earlier opportunity in August to postpone the hearing.
The defense then asked for the case to be adjourned until January. Baraitser refused, saying Assange’s lawyers had “ample time” before Monday to express their concerns.
The case has already been held up for months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Assange, who has spent 16 months in a British prison, sat in the dock at the Old Bailey criminal court and formally refused the US extradition demand.
Assange, who lawyers say has suffered physical and mental ill-health because of his ordeal, wore a suit and tie and spoke clearly to confirm his name and date of birth.
The extradition hearing opened in February but was put on hold when the UK went into lockdown in March to slow the spread of coronavirus. It is resuming with social distancing measures in court and video feeds so journalists and observers can watch remotely.
The case is due to run until early October. The judge is expected to take weeks or even months to consider her verdict, with the losing side likely to appeal.