On 24 June 2020, the US department of justice (DoJ) published what it calls a ‘superseding indictment’ against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as part of its extradition case. Three days later, The Canary published information accusing the DoJ of withholding key information in that indictment.
It has now transpired that the DoJ, contrary to standard legal practice, failed to lodge that indictment with the UK court and provide a copy to Assange’s lawyers. This failure could lead to serious consequences for the prosecution.
In a tweeted video, WikiLeaks‘ editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson expressed his astonishment that the superseding indictment had not been lodged with the UK court and, moreover, that a copy had not been provided to Assange’s lawyers:
Statement from @khrafnsson after today's hearing:"Sept 7 Julian #Assange a political prisoner will fight for his life, for the rights of all journalists around the world to receive & publish information exposing war crimes & dirty secrets,he'll be fighting for your right to know" pic.twitter.com/ie9Kgl50x1
— Don't Extradite Assange (@DEAcampaign) June 29, 2020
Barrister Greg Barns SC, an adviser to the Australian Assange campaign, told The Canary:
The failure to file the superseding indictment with the court before the hearing yesterday was extraordinary. It was given to the media it seems before giving it to the parties that matter. This was either an act of real incompetence or designed to further delay this case where you have Julian Assange languishing in circumstances that are damaging his health.
“Glorified press release”
WikiLeaks went on to describe the indictment as nothing more than a “glorified press release”:
WikiLeaks’ Kristinn Hrafnsson on the new DOJ superseding indictment: 'The US have no new charges to bring, and they can’t even be bothered to send the court or the defence team the document – that just shows this is a glorified press release' pic.twitter.com/4ykwUsKsrz
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) June 29, 2020
Indeed, the document begins by referring to “general allegations”. Published along with an accompanying press release, at this stage in the proceedings the release of these documents could be described as an abuse of process. This is because they raise detailed arguments more suitable for the actual extradition hearing, where they can be subject to challenge by the defence.
And in its press release, WikiLeaks unequivocally states:
The US government is showing contempt both for the court and the defence lawyers by trying to run a prosecution in the press rather than in front of the judge.
In a video interview with The Hill, co-founder of the Intercept Glenn Greenwald provides an overview of the DoJ’s latest allegations:
Non-disclosure of crucial information is a serious allegation to be levied against a prosecution – yet The Canary has shown this to be the case. That crucial information concerns the identity of two key witnesses listed in the superseding indictment: Sigurdur Thordarson (‘Siggi’) and Hector Xavier Monsegur (‘Sabu’). Not only did the DoJ fail to disclose the identities of those individuals, but also their criminal background, and their role as FBI informants in entrapment ops.
By not revealing that information, the DoJ has contravened UK legal practice in that both the court and the defence are fully entitled to its disclosure.
Assange’s legal team has every right to demand that the UK court orders the superseding indictment and its press release to be withdrawn from circulation and that both be regarded as inadmissible. And now that it’s apparent that the DoJ has failed to lodge that document with the UK court and defence lawyers, the prosecution should be subject to sanctions.
Moreover, the non-disclosure of crucial information is itself such a serious violation of court procedure that if justice is to prevail then the entire case against Assange should be immediately dismissed. Indeed, there are already numerous alleged flaws and errors identified in the US case, as well as possible UK procedural irregularities, that such an outcome would be entirely justified.
Featured image via Flickr – Cancilliera del Ecuador
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