Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 July 2019

UK judge calls Julian Assange 'narcissist' as journalists pack court room

Julian Assange hearing draws in the world's media as scuffles break out outside Ecuador embassy

WikiLeaks' Editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson (R) and barrister Jennifer Robinson (C) address the media outside Westminster Magistrates Court in London on April 11, 2019, following WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's court hearing. AFP 
WikiLeaks' Editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson (R) and barrister Jennifer Robinson (C) address the media outside Westminster Magistrates Court in London on April 11, 2019, following WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's court hearing. AFP 

As news broke of plain-clothed officers arresting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday morning UK time, the world's media converged on Westminster Magistrates Court.

While Mr Assange’s lawyer delayed the hearing with a late arrival, the WikiLeaks founder nonchalantly took out a book to read sitting in a glassed dock facing the press gallery that included The National.

Journalists from around the world, as far as Russia, had packed the press gallery and squeezed into the public gallery.

Camera crews had swamped Westminster Crown Court’s front entrance, as approximately ten Assange supporters unfurled banners demanding his release. Police helicopters swirled above the London court.

Perhaps knowing the attention surrounding his case, the now heavily bearded Assange wore a smart black suit and was called to rise by District Judge Michael Snow.

The controversial campaigner was found guilty of breaching bail conditions linked to alleged sexual crimes in 2010 in Sweden but faces further allegations from the US over his activities at the head of the whistle-blowing organisation.

Any quiet onset by the delay of Liam Walker, Mr Assange’s lawyer, would be broken thereafter.

The judge slammed Mr Assange for taking advantage of the high number of journalists in the court room to accuse previous British judges of so-called “bias”.

The Australian has previously accused a British judge for a lack of impartiality and that, as his lawyer claimed in court, has been “subjected to a tribunal clearly biased”.

“What is unacceptable in front of a packed press gallery is the grossly unfair reputation of dragging Ms Arbuthnot’s reputation in front of the press when you should have challenged it yourself,” District Judge Brown hit back.

“He (Mr Assange) has chosen to make accusations about a senior judge not having the courage for cross examination”, the judge added.

But the hard-hitting nature of this hearing didn’t stop there. It merely intensified.

The court heard of what had happened in the morning of his arrest. Police turned up but Mr Assange had “barged” his way past them into his room, before multiple officers hauled him onto his knees with back up officers called for.

Mr Walker stood up and defended Mr Assange as having “reasonable excuse to seek refuge” in Ecuador’s London embassy.

The Wikileaks founder displayed a cold demeanour, while his lawyer often walked up to him to confer what the judge had said.

Mr Assange pleaded not guilty to sharing classified information with Chelsea Manning in 2010 and has not consented to his extradition to the US.

The judge then rounded off the proceedings in a clear, crisp tone that left no one in doubt.

He described Mr Assange as displaying the “behaviour of a narcissist”, and called his behaviour “shameful”.

“I therefore have no hesitation to find Mr Assange guilty”.

Mr Assange is set to appear at Southwark Crown Court via video link on 2 May with regards to defending himself on charge of not appearing before police.

On his way out, Mr Assange waved to some of his supporters in the public gallery who had managed to find their way into an already packed room full of journalists.

A separate hearing on his US extradiction is expected to be heard in 65 days time, on 12 June.

Outside the Ecuador embassy, protesters shouted “shame on you” at the Ecuadorian ambassador as a scuffle broke out between security and a reporter from Chile-based El Ciudadano newspaper who tried to challenge the ambassador as he was bundled into a car.

The reporter, Patricio Mery Bell, said he wanted to ask the ambassador Jaime Martín about the Ecuadorian government’s promises around Mr Assange’s asylum.

“Ecuadorian police pushed me and tried to fight with me,” he said. “We started shouting traitor and liar because when I interviewed him two days ago he told me there was no change with the position of Julian Assange and that the government of Lenín Moreno will respect international law.”

He added that Mr Assange is a citizen of Ecuador and that the country had broken international law by allowing British police to arrest him in the embassy.

Updated: April 15, 2019 02:01 AM

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