Julian Assange ‘could be indicted for espionage’
Another extradition fight looms as lawyer fears spying charge against WikiLeaks editor is imminent
There are growing fears among the supporters of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange that the United States is about to indict him for spying. His London lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said yesterday she understands charges are imminent and are likely to be drawn up under the 1917 Espionage Act.
She stressed that there had been no formal communication from the US Justice Department nor from the American Embassy in London.
However, the combination of strong rumours in Washington legal circles, and US Attorney-General Eric Holder's pronouncement that he intends to hold the leakers of the US embassy cables accountable, has led Robinson and others to fear the worst.
Robinson, an Australian-born lawyer based in London, believes that, as the editor and publisher of WiliLeaks, Assange should be protected by the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment.
Because Assange was not the leaker, but published what had been leaked to him, she argues that he has not broken the law.
However, according to the Daily Telegraph, the Espionage Act forbids the gathering of national defence information if it is known to have been obtained illegally and could be used to the detriment of the US. Furthermore, the Act makes it illegal to fail to return such information to the US government.
Assange is currently in London's Wandsworth jail, denied bail, while his lawyers prepare to appeal against a Swedish request for his extradition to face possible charges of sexual offences against two Swedish women.
He is in solitary confinement and, contrary to recent reports, has no access to a computer or the internet. Jennifer Robinson says he has limited access to a telephone and that she has been allowed only minimal time with her client to prepare for the appeal hearing in London on Tuesday.
Assange is to be represented by the distinguished human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, another Australian who has lived and practised in London for most of his career.
The question now is not just whether the Americans intend to charge Assange with spying, but if they do, when and how they will seek to extradite him.
Asked by CNN whether she would would prefer to defend an American extradition request from Britain or Sweden, Jennifer Robinson opted for the former, citing Britain's "strong tradition of liberty and strong adversarial process".
In the meantime, several observers of Assange's predicament have pointed out the coincidence of this week's other high-profile extradition target, Bristol businessman Shrien Dewani, also finding himself in Wandsworth jail - but for two nights only.
Dewani, sought by police in Cape Town on suspicion of conspiring to murder his wife, Anni Dewani, during their honeymoon last month, was granted bail and allowed to go home. Assange enjoyed no such privilege. ·
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