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'This is Not Normal': Human Rights, Press Freedom Advocates Denied Remote Access to Assange Hearing

The WikiLeaks founder, who exposed U.S. war crimes, faces up to 175 years in prison if the U.K. agrees to extradite Assange.

Supporters of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange protest outside London's Old Bailey court as his fight against extradition to the U.S. has resumed, on September 7, 2020, in London, England. Assange has been in Belmarsh Prison for 16 months and is wanted over the publication of classified documents in 2010 and 2011. If convicted in the US, he faces a possible penalty of 175 years in jail. (Photo: Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Human rights and press freedom advocates cried foul early Monday morning after they were denied remote access to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition hearing taking place in the United Kingdom.

"This is not normal," said Marie Struthers, director of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office of Amnesty Eastern Europe & Central Asia, in a video interview outside the court proceedings.

Struthers said the human rights group was "shocked to find out that our court observer has been denied access to the court online ... we conduct trial monitoring all over the world, week in, week out."

"Amnesty is almost always granted access to monitor court cases around the world," Struthers added. "For our legal observer to find out this morning that he has not been granted even remote access to the Assange proceedings is an outrage."

Amnesty had previously been granted remote access but was notified Monday morning, Struthers said, that the access was revoked because the group did not submit a required letter to the judge presiding over the trial.

She said they submitted the letter Monday morning, and that she "fully expects" they will be granted access going forward.

Meanwhile, critics—including NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—condemned the U.S. effort to extradite Assange as a clear and present attack on press freedoms.

PEN Norway was also reportedly denied access to the Monday morning proceedings.

According to Shadowproof's Kevin Gosztola, who covered the trial from inside the courtroom:

Assange is accused of 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of violating a computer crime law that, as alleged in the indictment, is also an Espionage Act offense.

The trial portion of Assange’s extradition hearing in London began on September 7 at the Old Bailey Courthouse. It is expected to unfold over the next three to four weeks.

As of this writing, Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected a request by Assange's lawyers to delay his extradition hearing until next year to give his lawyers more time to respond to U.S. allegations that he conspired with hackers to obtain classified information.

Asked at one point by the prosecution if he was "prepared to consent to be extradited," Assange reportedly answered: "No."

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