An hour in, the Wikileaks founder did appear before the camera, wearing an untucked white shirt and tie. Looking increasingly like his father, he seemed distracted and has visibly lost weight. White hair straggles to his shoulders and deep lines etch his face. Before sixty minutes had passed Assange appeared to indicate that he could not hear proceedings and requested to leave the video facility. He gathered his papers and left. In the afternoon he appeared to manage fewer than ten minutes on the video link.
This hearing arises from District Judge Vanessa Baraitser's dismissal of the US government application to extradite Assange – handed down last January. She found that conditions in US prisons created a significant risk that Assange would commit suicide. It would be ‘oppressive’ if he were incarcerated there, she ruled.
Yesterday’s hearing was to consider an application by the US to overturn Baraitser’s judgement.
James Lewis QC, acting for the US government told the court that since Judge Baraitser’s ruling the US government had offered significant assurances in respect of Assange’s treatment, should he face US justice. He committed that the Wikileaks founder would not be subject to ‘Special Administrative Measures’ (SAMS), and, if he were convicted, would be sent to his native Australia to see out his sentence.
SAMS is a form of prisoner management that keeps the most serious criminals in solitary confinement, with very limited access to family or lawyers. Lewis told the court that Baraitser’s ruling had been based on the erroneous expectation that Assange would inevitably face such conditions. Given the import that the judge attached to prison conditions, the US had now offered fresh assurances.
Lewis, who spoke for four hours, said that Baraitser had: misinterpreted the Extradition Act; given undue weight to the single psychiatrist who had detected significant suicide risk; and had been swayed by alarmist accounts of the likely length of sentence that Assange might face.
Edward Fitzgerald QC, who heads Assange’s defence, responded saying: “Mr Assange would inevitably be in solitary confinement if he is sent to the US. There is a significant increase in chance of suicide if you have Autistic Spectrum Disorder and there is an increase of the chance of suicide if you are in solitary confinement.”
Most of today’s hearing will be devoted to Fitzgerald’s detailed case for upholding the refusal.
A noisy crowd outside kept up chants throughout the hearing. Julian Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, told supporters that it was ‘unbearable’ sitting in court hearing the American’s representatives picking Julian to pieces.