Assange extradition hearing delayed over coronavirus concerns
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in London was delayed on Thursday because of concerns that one of the lawyers for the U.S. may have contracted the coronavirus.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser adjourned the case until Monday at the request of the U.S. government and Assange’s legal team after one of the U.S. lawyers was being tested for the virus on Thursday, Reuters reported. The results of the test are expected on Friday.
The judge also requested that both sides submit written statements about how they would like to proceed in the hearings if the test returns positive, The Guardian reported.
“At the moment we would respectfully submit we have to go ahead on the assumption that she has COVID,” Edward Fitzgerald, Assange’s lawyer, said Thursday.
“If that is the correct assumption … we shouldn’t really be here: COVID would be here in the courtroom and it’s not possible to tell how far it’s extended,” he added, according to Reuters.
Assange and his lawyers are arguing against his potential extradition to the U.S., where he has been charged with conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law for releasing documents through WikiLeaks. He faces a sentence of up to 175 years in prison if convicted, according to The Guardian.
Hearings for his potential extradition started in February and were scheduled to continue in May, but the coronavirus shutdowns delayed them until September.
Assange’s legal team has called for their client to be granted bail due to his risk of contracting COVID-19 with the pre-existing conditions of respiratory infections and heart problems. But the judge denied bail, saying Assange is a flight risk, according to Reuters.
The WikiLeaks founder fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to avert being extradited to Sweden on sex crime allegations, which have since been dropped. He stayed there for seven years before being removed in 2019.
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