Outside Courtroom 1 at Westminster Magistrates Court, around 40 people waited patiently in line, along with more than a dozen members of the press, as various extradition administration hearings took place.
The main attraction of course was Julian Assange, making a rare public appearance rather than joining by video link from Belmarsh high security prison where he has been incarcerated for more than a year.
Outside the building another 25 supporters held large banners and noisily demonstrated from 9.30am.
Shortly before 11, the press were ushered into the courtroom, and then the public gallery, holding around 30, filled up. On special instruction from the judge, DJ Vanessa Baraitser, security checked that all phones were switched off, and warned that any attempt to record or take photos would be met with a contempt of court arrest.
Julian Assange was then brought into court. He looked gaunt, with a trimmed beard but unkempt hair. He stood for a moment, looking around the room, occasional slight nods indicating he recognised a familiar face or two, then he sat and sank his head into his hands until the judge arrived.
The judge warned the public that any interruptions to proceedings may result in a ban and possible contempt of court proceedings, and then business began.
The reason Assange had been brought in person to the court was because his lawyer, Gareth Peirce, has been continually denied reasonable contact time with her client at Belmarsh. She was aiming to spend several hours with him at Westminster to go through three substantial reports, including physical exhibits, so that he could sign them off as evidence in his defence against extradition to the US on espionage charges.
Peirce has had just two hours contact at Belmarsh since the last hearing a month ago, while Assange faces a nominal 175 year prison sentence in the US if his defence against extradition fails. She told the judge that she was close to launching a judicial review as his legal right to defence was being breached by Belmarsh and the court.
Judge Baraitser said that Westminster’s cells were full of prisoners, and that the court security had informed her that as a result Assange would be unlikely to get more than an hour with his lawyer. She did however offer to postpone conclusion of proceedings until the end of the day, in the hope that more time might be found. She also suggested that the next hearing might take place at Belmarsh Magistrates Court as it may be quieter there, and Belmarsh may allow Assange to visit in person again. But she was clear this was just a suggestion and no guarantees or promises could be made.
Julian Assange didn’t seem clear as to what was going on, and Gareth Peirce went over to the dock to try to explain to him through the glass partition what the judge had proposed.
He was then led out and back to the cells, just managing a small fist in the air for his supporters.
Outside the court, there was a substantial media presence. The tide does appear to be turning in Assange’s favour in terms of support, with The Guardian officially supporting his defence despite previous smears, the NUJ finally backing him after previously ignoring his plight, and NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty announcing support.
There have also been some German and other international trial observers attending proceedings, as the realisation spreads of how dangerous a precedent extradition would set for freedom of speech and investigative journalism around the world.
Among the supporters was rapper M.I.A. who told the crowd she was getting a medal from the Queen the next day, and she promised to give the ‘Don’t Extradite Assange’ message to Her Maj!
Joseph Farrell, a Wikileaks ambassador, said that if you want to support Assange, write to your MP, or write to your choice of NGO, or join groups like Extinction Rebellion or Greta Thunberg’s youth strikes, both of whom have announced support – (Wikileaks has published many climate-related documents).
More info at Don’t Extradite Assange.