9.15am: Julian Assange returns to court.
The venue: Belmarsh magistrates’ court (sitting at Woolwich crown court) in south-east London. Belmarsh is better known for its high security jail, which comments last week on this blog (based on reports on Mexican websites) suggested he would therefore be imprisoned in. But this is just a routine case management hearing. A full two-day extradition hearing to Sweden – where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes – starts on 7 February.
We’ll let you know what happens in and outside the court and our reporter Esther Addley will be supplying tweets and reports from the ground.
9.22am: Esther Addley tweets that Assange “just walked past reporters outside court, smiled and waved to a few he knew”. (One reporter, Alexi Moustrous of the Times, had earlier tweeted that Assange told him outside court he is “pissed off about various forms of treachery”, though there’s no elaboration.)
9.40am: Jemima Khan, one of those who paid Assange’s surety, is at the court too. She tweets: “Attending court today, as requested by Assange’s lawyers. Taking my American born stepdaughter along for the experience.”
10.00am: And it’s court time. Tweeting is allowed so I can pass on this from Esther Addley:
Enormous dock in ct 3, behind high glass panels. #assange waving & thumbs up to supporters in gallery
10.14am: There is a consensus among tweets from the court that Assange is “relaxed” but – as yet – no sign of a judge.
10.19am: There is now a judge. Assange has confirmed his name, age and, with caveat, address in Australia.
10.24am: The hearing is adjourned until 7 February, the already-scheduled date for the expected two-day appearance.
10.26am: Luke Harding tweets a change to Assange’s bail conditions. When he is in London for the 7 – 8 February he will be permitted to stay at the Frontline Club, effectively his address in the city, and therefore avoid a longer trip to Belmarsh from the Norfolk estate where he currently resides as part of his bail conditions.
11am: Assange’s post-hearing statement is expected in around 20 minutes. In the meantime, here is an audio report from Esther Addley at the court explaining what happened at the “short and sweet” hearing. Listen! To hear the full audio turn off the autorefresh button at the top of the page
Matthew Weaver is the interviewer.
11.05am: Assange made his statement sooner than expected. Here are two key lines:
We are happy about today’s outcome. I have asked the court to make available to the press our skeleton argument
Our work with WikiLeaks continues unabated and we are stepping up our publishing of materials related to cablegate
His lawyer, Mark Stephens, said the “skeleton argument” would be made available his afternoon through his firm’s website.
11.25am: With the Assange hearing now over, here are some recent developments in the wider WikiLeaks story. We will continue with this through the day and later post some cables from You ask, we search. Tweet GdnCables or email [email protected] with requests (but, please, no more aliens).
• A former Croatian presidential candidate, Dean Golubic, 27 (he was the youngest ever), has announced he is setting up a Croatian version of WikiLeaks and will start publishing documents shortly. It may be a fertile area: we reported last month that the embassy cables in our possession revealed sleaze at the heart of former prime minister Ivo Sanader’s government.
• If you are on Twitter and interested in WikiLeaks, Evgeny Morozov is a must-follow. Overnight, he was tweeting about a julianassangemustdie.com web address that he traced to a rightwing US blogger. (update: the domain has been removed.)
• WikiLeaks put out a press release this morning that draws parallels between some of the verbal attacks on Assange and sometimes violent US political rhetoric criticised in the wake of the shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford:
WikiLeaks staff and contributors have also been the target of unprecedented violent rhetoric by US prominent media personalities, including Sarah Palin, who urged the US administration to “Hunt down the WikiLeaks chief like the Taliban”. Prominent US politician Mike Huckabee called for the execution of WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange on his Fox News program last November, and Fox News commentator Bob Beckel, referring to Assange, publicly called for people to “illegally shoot the son of a bitch”
12pm: Journalism.co.uk has a post about a Russian crowdsourcing initiative to translate the leaks that allows multiple translators to work on a single cable. It also notes the crowdsourcing of anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny who, it says, Russians sometimes call “our very own WikiLeaks”.
12.20pm: As some in the comments have already spotted, Assange’s lawyer’s have posted his skeleton defence argument to their website. I’ll start reading it now.
12.45pm: A quick summary of the defence argument, which was posted a little earlier by Assange’s legal team:
• Assange’s lawyers dispute that the Swedish prosecutor has the authority to issue a European arrest warrant in the case, citing a previous case that established that the Swedish National Police Board was the country’s sole issuing authority.
• Extradition is sought for an improper purpose – for questioning, not for prosecution. The defence furthermore maintain that the Swedish prosecutor is incorrect to claim all normal procedures for getting an interrogation have been “exhausted” since Assange’s Swedish lawyer made his client available for questioning.
• The offences are not extradition offences
• Abuses of process by the Swedish prosecutor. The document says that she has sought Assange’s extradition when she has not yet decided to prosecute him and is seeking extradition for questioning him in order to further her investigation. It repeats that arrest for the purpose of questioning is unnecessary since Assange has already offered to be questioned. The defence states that the “proper, proportionate and legal means of requesting a person’s questioning in the UK in these circumstances is through Mutual Legal Assistance.”
• Evidence from “distinguished Swedish legal authorities” that will show Assange is a “victim of a pattern of illegal or corrupt behaviour” by the Swedish prosecuting authorities. In summary, releasing Assange’s name to the press as the suspect in a rape inquiry, the refusal of the prosecutor to interview him on the dates offered and a refusal of all requests to make the evidence against him available in English (a right under the European convention on human rights).
• Human rights – this is the part where the defence claims a risk that Assange will be extradited from Sweden to the US, which it says would be in violation of article three of the European convention on human rights.
It is submitted that there is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the US will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere, in conditions which would breach Article 3 of the ECHR. Indeed, if Mr. Assange were rendered to the USA, without assurances that the death penalty would not be carried out, there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty. It is well-known that prominent figures have implied, if not stated outright, that Mr. Assange should be executed
3.45pm: We now move on to You ask, we search. @no3response @life scientology are among a number of readers who have asked for mentions of the EU border police agency, Frontex. Ben Quinn found this:
US diplomats expressed fears that “special interest aliens” such as Iraqi insurgents could be smuggled to the US via Greece’s highly porous border with Turkey and fretted that frustrated young Muslim illegal migrants who made it across the frontier were vulnerable to radicalisation in underground prayer rooms said to have proliferated throughout major Greek cities.
Greece, which which is a Frontex priority and was criticised by the United Nations’ refugee agency on Friday over plans to build a fence along part of its border with Turkey, was described by the same US diplomatic correspondence as “the EU entry point of choice for illegal migrants and refugees.”
In one of a number of cables reflecting intense US interest in immigration in the region, the US ambassador in Athens warned in December 2009 that the large number of migrants entering into Greece posed risks, citing the example of Greece’s deportation of an Iraqi insurgent commander five months earlier.
The US ambassador in Athens, Daniel Speckhard, noted that Frontex had increased the number of air patrols and maritime observers in the Aegean during the year but added: “The Greeks haven’t been able to change the dynamics on the ground.”
He went on to comment on the role of neighbouring Turkey in a cable sent in February last year, stating: “The biggest problem is along Greece’s eastern border, since Turkey is not making any meaningful effort to stop the flow of illegal immigrants across both the land and sea borders.”
The Greek and Turkish prime ministers put on a show of solidarity over the issue of illegal immigration during a joint appearance on Friday in which the the Turkish leader, Tayyip Erdogan, said his appreciation of the situation had changed after his counterpart in Athens, George Papandreou, told him there were one million illegal immigrants in Greece.
The Greeks has long complained that Turkey’s refusal to take back immigrants who have crossed from its territory encourages would-be migrants to use the route.
4.10pm: Even ParanormalUtopia.com has given up on the US embassy cables proving the existence of UFOs. “All of us salivated,” writes ParaNikki. “To our dismay, we got a dud.”
4.45pm: More You ask, we search: Anna Christina Kuhn in Germany asked asked what US diplomats reported on the investigations of Dick Marty, the Swiss senator who authored 2006 and 2007 Council of Europe reports into the CIA’s use of secret prisons in Europe.
The leaked cables portray a diplomats’ view of the human rights rapporteur as an irritant to US-Swiss relations. In one, the US ambassador to Bern tells Swiss officials that “Switzerland’s obsession with the prisons/overflight matter – driven in significant measure by Swiss Senator Dick Marty – risked overwhelming Washington’s perceptions of Switzerland.” His comments follow an apology from the same officials for “press overreaction” to a leaked Swiss intelligence report that said the Egyptian government knew of 23 Afghan and Iraqi prisoners transferred to European jails.
A 2009 cable (previously published) deals indirectly with Marty in an unflattering assessment of the Council of Europe, for who he is still writing reports (most recently alleging that Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaçi, was the head of an human organ harvesting ring). The 2009 cable said the council “is an organisation with an inferiority complex and, simultaneously, an overambitious agenda”, setting out what it considered to be its failings.
In its final paragraph, it turned to Marty, who it said had created “anti-US sentiment”:
We turn to one issue where the COE has been both an irritant and, more recently, somewhat of a champion – Guantanamo. Dick Marty, a member of the Swiss delegation to the PACE, conducted an investigation into renditions and “secret prisons” in Europe connected to the US war on terrorism. His work created a great deal of controversy and anti-US sentiment in the COE. More recently, however, SecGen Davis and COE Human Rights Commissioner Hammarberg have called on COE member-states to work with the US and consider accepting detainees from Guantanamo