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Assange: I can't speak freely to my legal team

JULIAN ASSANGE said today that he feels unable to participate in his own extradition proceedings because he fears his conversations with lawyers are being spied on.

The Wikileaks founder is wanted in the US on 17 charges under the Espionage Act and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion after the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011.

He is fighting to avoid being handed over for extradition and addressed Judge Vanessa Baraitser from the dock during a third day of legal argument at Woolwich Crown Court, which is sitting as a magistrates’ court.

“I can’t speak to my lawyers in confidentiality. There’s a whole series of people sitting there and there’s microphones,” he said.

“I can’t, with any confidence, give [my solicitor] any instructions. This case already has enough spies on my lawyers as it is.”

The court has previously heard claims that Mr Assange’s legal team were bugged during visits to him in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he spent almost seven years.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Mr Assange, argued that there is a long-standing convention, accepted in international law and by scholars, that it is inadmissible to extradite those accused of “political” offences.

He recounted extensive case law that demonstrated that “espionage,” which accounts for 17 of the 18 charges against Mr Assange, is “political.”

Mr Fitzgerald told the hearing that Wikileaks had been described as “an intelligence agency for the people” and that whatever offences it had committed were against the US state.

He recounted the case of former MI5 officer David Shayler, who the French Court of Appeal refused to extradite to Britain in 1988.

Mr Shayler had leaked documents to the Mail On Sunday, but — deeming this act “political” — the French courts refused extradition.

James Lewis QC, for the US government, told the hearing that because the US-UK extradition treaty had not been incorporated into English domestic law, it provided no protection for those whose offences were “political.”

He cited numerous examples which he said made clear that a court was only entitled to enforce domestic law and had no power to enforce a treaty.

“The idea of a political offence does not exist, otherwise it would be impossible to prosecute members of the IRA for acts of sedition,” he told the court.

The hearing continues.

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