Sun, Apr 14, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Assange settles in for legal battle after embassy arrest


WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadoran embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim institution in the southeast part of the city, where he nevertheless has certain advantages he did not have when he was holed up, hiding from the law.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson on Friday said that the ailing Assange should finally be able to receive medical care and would be able to meet with his lawyers more easily than he could in the embassy, where a feud with Ecuadoran authorities had led to a ban on most guests.

Assange, 47, has extreme shoulder pain and tooth pain, Hrafnsson said.

For nearly seven years, Assange lived in the embassy without taking a step outside for fear of being arrested and sent to the US to be prosecuted.

On Thursday, British authorities dragged the Australian native from the embassy and US authorities announced charges against him of conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer, setting up what is expected to be an epic legal and political battle over whether to extradite him to the US.

His arrest became possible after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, complaining that he was an obnoxious houseguest who did not clean up after his cat and that WikiLeaks was plotting to blackmail the Latin American country’s president.

At the prison, where he is being held while the extradition process plays out, “there are medical facilities there, access to dental care I would assume, and a garden to go out into,” Hrafnsson said.

However, “comparing one prison to another and giving a star rating is not really what’s on my mind,” he said. “What’s on my mind is there’s an innocent man in prison for doing his job as a journalist, and that’s an outrage.”

Assange is in relatively good mental condition considering the stress of the past few days, he said.

The political debate over whether to extradite Assange is already taking shape, with the UK’s opposition Labour Party urging the government not to hand him over to the US.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Twitter that the US is prosecuting Assange because he exposed “evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“It is this whistle-blowing into illegal wars, mass murder, murder of civilians and corruption on a grand scale that has put Julian Assange in the crosshairs of the US administration,” Labour spokeswoman for domestic affairs Diane Abbott told the British parliament.

The politicization of the case reflects the clashing views of Assange as either a heroic whistle-blower standing up to the US or a willing stooge who helped the Russians boost US President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by publishing hacked e-mails that embarrassed his rival, former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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