Wednesday, February 26, 2020, third day of Julian Assange’s extradition trial at the Woolwich Crown Court.
Three days of intense fighting, violence and emotion. On the first day, reading of the indictment, Edward Fitzgerald’s plea on the history of the facts, in the public gallery, only 18 people were able to take their seats. The clamour of the Yellow Vests comes to us from outside, muffled but present. Dozens of journalists occupy a space in the hall and the court annex. Julian Assange finally appeared physically, and we can see him for several hours, even though he is not allowed to speak and looks weak and sad.
The next day we attend Mark Summers’ plea rebutting the prosecution’s case. Julian Assange is visibly much weaker; he watches the events motionless and prostrate.
Wednesday 26 February Edward Fitzgerald presents the arguments invalidating extradition, since the bilateral extradition treaty between Great Britain and the United States of 2003 prohibits extradition for political reasons. The atmosphere is tense, everyone is tired. Julian Assange is at his worst. He makes great efforts to sit up straight on the bench, his complexion is very pale and in the afternoons he is livid. His suffering is palpable, we can feel it despite two windows and 20 meters distance. The expression on his face is frozen, he is prostrate. We are 5 women sitting together to the left of the audience box. We encourage him with our gaze and our mind, any gesture being forbidden to us by the rules of the court.
At 3pm the extraordinary happens: while the prosecutor is blocked in his tracks by a lost document, Julian Assange gets up and speaks. He is stunned, he has broken the rules, he rebels, he insists. Vanessa Baraitser cuts him off and tells him: “What you are asking for is not usual, you must speak through your lawyer”. But Julian Assange, exhausted, speaks again, his voice muffled for so many months. The lawyers panic. Gareth Peirce moves towards him but does not interrupt him. The others wonder. The judge cuts him off a second time, he insists a third time, he speaks for a few minutes, we see him making gestures of despair and exasperation. The people sitting in the front row hear a little, whereas in the audience box we usually only hear what is said in the microphones. In this confined space, the 18 people present stand up, gesticulating with emotion. While discussing we reconstructed what Julian Assange said: he complained about his condition, about being surrounded by a guard on each side (I think it was mainly the guard from Mitie’s private security who was hostile to him, more than the guard from Belmarsh prison sitting at the other end of the bench). He says he’s exhausted and can’t concentrate… In fact, we know it’s worse. He’s on the verge of collapse. Judge Baraitser knows this, because she sees him from the front, while in the configuration of the room his lawyers turn their backs on him.
Impressed by the prisoner’s revolt, Baraitser suspends the hearing. Julian is taken by the guards out of the box. Gareth Peirce, Mark Summers and Edward Fitzgerald go out into the corridor to confer. There is agitation and amazement among the reporters and prosecutors. In our cubicle our guard, frightened, runs away to get instructions that don’t arrive. We are alone and we finally have the right to stay in the room for the break, we talk, and we agitate. When Baraitser returns five minutes later, Julian is brought back into the box but refuses to sit down. Standing in front of the room, he listens to his lawyer Fitzgerald ask the judge to postpone the rest of the hearing until tomorrow “so that he can consult with his client within the walls of the court, right here”.
Then the second extraordinary thing happens: Vanessa Baraitser suggests that he “make an application for bail”! We have been fighting for 9 months, certainly not for bail, but for full release, but, in my opinion, this proposal is finally a door that opens! The idea that Julian Assange could regain his freedom and access to the care he needs has been guiding our, my action, for 6 months. Wikijustice has filed 4 requests for ready-to-use release and now the harsh judge herself judges that it would be better if the political prisoner from England did not die in front of her during the trial as a result of the ill-treatment and torture most probably suffered, but that he could have his life saved and receive treatment. I want to believe in this miracle, this turnaround!
Fitzgerald then takes the lead and for the first time since the trial he approaches Julian Assange and asks him something sweetly. Probably he asks him for a formal agreement to make this request since he also answers to the judge as he needs it. He also apologizes “with all due respect” to the prosecutor, whose speech was interrupted.
However, Vanessa Baraitser decided to let the prosecutor finish his thesis. This lasts another hour. Nobody listens to the prosecutor anymore. In our cubicle everyone is excited and curses him out loud. Julian Assange almost falls asleep, clutching the bench file. In our space other people present are also sleeping. The district attorney must feel like everyone is waiting for him to finish and for us to leave. We’re all marked by this wonderful news of a possible release. The political effect of the charge of “conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, computer intrusion to commit a theft of classified documents in a meeting” has disappeared. The American prosecution and its accomplices on British soil met with a revolt. I said to one of my colleagues in the audience, “This country needs a small revolution”. She replies “only a small one”?
The revolt was brief but intense, but its effects must be exploited and we expect to be certain that the lawyers will file the application for release tomorrow at 9.30 a.m. as the judge has invited them to do.