US lawyers claim Julian Assange charged for ‘indiscriminate’ naming of sources

Julian Assange's supporters have gathered outside London's High Court as the legal battle unfolds.

Julian Assange's supporters have gathered outside London's High Court as the legal battle unfolds. Photo: Getty

Julian Assange is being prosecuted for publishing sources’ names and not for his political opinions, lawyers representing the US say as the WikiLeaks founder fights to stop his extradition from Britain.

US prosecutors are seeking to put Assange, 52, on trial over WikiLeaks’ high-profile release of vast troves of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.

They argue the leaks imperilled the lives of their agents and there is no excuse for his criminality.

Assange’s supporters, however, hail him as a journalist and a hero who is being persecuted for exposing US wrongdoing.

Assange’s lawyers told London’s High Court on Tuesday the case was politically motivated, arguing Assange was targeted for his exposure of “state-level crimes” and that Donald Trump had requested “detailed options” on how to kill him.

But, on Wednesday, lawyers for the US said Assange’s prosecution was “based on the rule of law and evidence”.

“The appellant’s prosecution might be unprecedented, but what he did was unprecedented,” Clair Dobbin told the court.

Assange “indiscriminately and knowingly published to the world the names of individuals who acted as sources of information to the US”, she said.

“It is these core facts which distinguish the position of the appellant from the New York Times and other media outlets,” Dobbin added.

“It is this which forms the objective basis for his prosecution. It is these facts which distinguish him, not his political opinions.”

Assange was again not in court on Wednesday, nor watching remotely because he was unwell.

Dobbin also responded to Assange’s lawyers who cited an alleged US plan to kidnap or murder Assange while he was in London’s Ecuadorean embassy, reported by Yahoo News in 2021.

She said the United States had given assurances about how Assange would be treated that “wholly undermine this suggestion … that anything could happen to him”.

Dobbin argued that the material Wikileaks published was obtained by encouraging people to steal documents and contained unredacted names of US sources.

Assange could not therefore be “treated as akin to an ordinary journalist or Wikileaks akin to an ordinary publisher,” she said.

Dobbin said the publications risked serious harm to named individuals who “lived in warzones or lived under repressive regimes”.

Julian Assange published thousands of secret US Military records. Photo: Getty

Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, said there was “no proof at all that any harm actually eventuated”.

He also said lawyers representing the UK’s home secretary had accepted Assange could in theory be charged with offences carrying the death penalty, as was former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who leaked documents to WikiLeaks.

Judge Victoria Sharp said at the end of the hearing that the court would give its decision at a later date.

A ruling on Assange’s future is not expected until March at the earliest.

Assange’s legal battles began in 2010, and he spent seven years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy before he was dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions.

He has been held in a maximum-security jail in London since then, even getting married there, while the UK finally approved his extradition to the US in 2022.

Assange’s lawyers say he could be given a sentence as long as 175 years but likely to be at least 30 to 40 years.

US prosecutors have said it would be no more than 63 months.

Assange awaits decision

The judges overseeing the case reserved their decision at the end of the two-day hearing on Wednesday.

If Assange wins this case, a full appeal hearing will be held.

If he loses, his only remaining option would be at the European Court of Human Rights.

His wife has said his lawyers would apply to that court for an injunction if necessary.

But his supporters worry Assange could be put on a plane to the US before that happens, because the UK government has already signed an extradition order.

The Australian parliament last week called for Assange to be allowed to return to his homeland.

Australian MP Andrew Wilkie, who attended the hearing, said he hoped that sent a strong message to the UK and US governments to end the legal fight.

“This has gone on long enough,” he said.


Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.