Julian Assange extradition delayed by further tech, coronavirus issues

London: The extradition hearing for Julian Assange has been plagued by technical difficulties, throwing proceedings into further delay because of coronavirus.

Assange is fighting the US Department of Justice's request for him to be extradited to the US to face 18 charges of violating the Espionage Act. The charges relate to the publication of more than half a million US defence and diplomatic documents on the WikiLeaks website.

The charges carry a maximum 175 years jail term.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen in a prison van travelling to Westminster Magistrates Court in London on December 20, 2019.Credit:AP

Court officials in London spent more than an hour trying to establish a video link to the United States to hear the evidence of Eric Lewis, a US attorney who opposes Assange's extradition.

"No publisher of information has ever been successfully prosecuted for publishing national security information ever," Lewis said.

He told the court that if convicted, the 49-year-old would likely spend the rest of his life in jail.

"Under the best-case scenario we are looking at a sentence somewhere between, 20 years, if everything goes brilliantly to 175 years," he said.

Lewis spent around 90 minutes giving evidence before an audio clip interrupted his testimony. The judge walked out as the tech troubles interfered with the hearing which was then adjourned until lunch.

But after lunch court officials could not re-establish a link to Lewis and the hearing was called off for the rest of the day and will resume on Tuesday.

It is not the first time that the hearing has experienced difficulties connecting to, or hearing clearly, witnesses who are choosing to give evidence remotely as a result of the pandemic.

The hearing only resumed at the Old Bailey in central London on Monday following a two-day break after a coronavirus scare, when the wife of one of the lawyers representing the US government developed symptoms which she feared might be COVID-19.

Filmmaker John Pilger stands with supporters of the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as they gather outside the Old Bailey.Credit:Getty

"Those that wish to wear masks in the well of the court are welcome to do so unless they are directly addressing the court and I understand masks are available for this purpose," she said.

"But there is no obligation to do so and I make no direction … in this regard."

She instead said that anyone, including Assange who is sitting behind a glass wall in the dock, could wear a mask if they wished.

Assange wore a mask to his extradition hearing for the first time but his QC Mark Summer claimed there had been "difficulties in getting him masks."

Assange's extradition hearing was already delayed by several months due to the pandemic. Assange has subsequently claimed that his incarceration is a risk to his health, exacerbated by coronavirus.

He is being held at Belmarsh prison on London's outskirts. His extradition hearing is expected to run until October.

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