Julian Assange’s partner has accused the US of tearing their family apart, and described the bid to extradite him from the UK as “a frontal assault on journalism”, as four weeks of court hearings about his fate were adjourned.
Stella Moris said the two children she has with the cofounder of Wikileaks “need their father”. Assange will spend Christmas in prison contemplating his potential extradition in the new year to face prosecution and a potential 175-year prison sentence.
“He is in prison because he informed you of actual crimes and atrocities being committed by a foreign power. That foreign power has ripped away his freedom and torn our family apart. That power wants to put him in incommunicado detention in the deepest darkest hole of its prison system for the rest of his life,” she said in a statement read outside the Old Bailey.
US prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse in relation to the publication of secret military documents a decade ago.
Lawyers for the 49-year-old and those acting for the US government are to spend the coming weeks making final submissions in writing before a ruling is issued at 10am on 4 January by the judge, Vanessa Baraitser.
“Unless any further application for bail is made, and between now and the 4th of January, you will remain in custody for the same reasons as have been given to you before,” Baraitser told Assange, who was sitting behind a security screen at the back of the court. She has previously denied bail over concerns that he is a flight risk.
Among the last pieces of evidence submitted to the court on Thursday was a statement from a solicitor for Assange, Gareth Peirce, who said that revelations that she and others had been spied on during meetings with him when he was inside Ecuador’s embassy in London had a “chilling effect” on preparing for the case.
Assange’s defence team has argued that he is entitled to protections under the US constitution for the publication of leaked documents exposing US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also argue that the extradition request is politically motivated, asserting that US hostility increased after Trump came to power and that he and the then FBI director general James Comey reportedly suggested “putting a head on a pike as a message” in order to plug leaks.
Medical experts called by his legal team have also spoken about his wide-ranging mental health issues, which they say could be worsened if he ended up on the conditions of a US “supermax” prison. A psychiatrist who frequently visited him in prison in London told the court that he was at high risk of suicide if sent to the US. Lawyers for the US have sought to show his mental state is not as bad as claimed, and that he would not be subjected to improper conditions if sent to pretrial facilities at Alexandria Detention Centre in Virginia.
Evidence over the past few days has included that of journalists attesting to the value of whistleblowers, as well as a statement from the noted US linguist and philosopher, Noam Chomsky, who said that Assange had performed an enormous service by lifting “the veil” of secrecy that protects power from scrutiny”.
During the reading of evidence on Wednesday from two former associates of a Spanish private security firm that allegedly conducted an extensive spying operation against Assange, the court was told of a claim that US intelligence had discussed plans to poison or kidnap him from the Ecuadorian embassy.
Assange was removed by police in April 2019 from the embassy, where he had taken refuge seven years previously to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that was subsequently dropped.
Before coming to court last month, Assange was formally rearrested on a new US indictment that updates and broadens previous charges.
Details in the new indictment – publicised by the US Department of Justice – focus on conferences in 2009 in the Netherlands and Malaysia at which US prosecutors say Assange tried to recruit hackers who could find classified information, including in relation to a “most wanted leaks” list posted on the WikiLeaks website.