A failed release – Last day of the trial of Julian Assange in Westminster-Woolwich

By MONIKA KARBOWSKA

On Thursday 27th February 2020, we are both stressed by the dramatic events of the previous day and excited about a positive outcome – the bail application which Judge Baraitser has proposed to the lawyers and which the lawyers have to file before 9.30 am so that the judge can examine it before the start of the hearing. During the night we sent the fifth request for release written by the association Wikijustice Julian Assange to push the court to act. In spite of the little sleep we got up early to arrive at 6am in front of the gate of the Woolwich Crown Court.

There are already 5 people and it’s already three hours of waiting under a pouring rain to win its place in the box of the public. That day, as on Tuesday and Wednesday, there are mostly Germans and Americans in line, unlike Monday when there were many French and French-speaking people. Sevim Dadgelen, chairwoman of the die Linke parliamentary group and Heike Hänsel, die Linke member of the Bundestag enter with press cards before the public. We will find them, as we have done since Tuesday, in the airlock that serves as a waiting room before the security guard unlocks the emergency exit that serves as a door to the public gallery.

At 9:30 am, we are finally in this suffocating 15 square meter airlock between two fire doors, with 25 other people. The security guards have let the 18 authorised people in, but as there are the two MPs and a few journalists, more people than places, we will have to fight against the free riders so as not to be thrown out of the queue. The atmosphere can only be tense and unfriendly in this overheated room, but we have no choice, we want to see Julian Assange and witness his possible release. Since Tuesday Kristinn Hrafnsson, Fidel Narvaez, Craig Murray and John Shipton have been sitting in the family seats in the public area. The fifth man sitting with the family members is probably show producer Hamish Hamilton.

At 10 o’clock, I am finally in the audience box, exhausted from fighting for 4 days to just keep my seat in that glass balcony overlooking the audience room. At 10 o’clock, the hearing hasn’t started yet but that’s normal since the judge promised to consider the bail application before 10:30. The security guard who is watching us at all times demands that we immediately turn off our mobile phones. This last day, several young lawyers are sitting in the last row next to Mc McGrath, Stella Morris, Jennifer Robinson who has returned after a day of absence and Renata Avila who appears for the first time. As in previous days, Gareth Peirce sits in the second row with his assistants, Mark Summers and Edward Fitzgerald in the first row. To their right stands prosecutor Lewis and the staff of the prosecution, which unfortunately we do not see from the glass gallery. We can only listen to what he says when the microphone is working properly.

Judge Baraitser will enter on a dais, Julian Assange will be locked in the box of the accused right in front of her at the back of the room. Near the door, no less than 26 journalists are hand-picked, the others remain in an annex where they have to make do with a screen. We quickly get up from our seats at a sign from our supervisor. The judge has arrived and at the same time Julian Assange enters with the guard dressed in Belmarsh’s uniform through the back door into the box of the accused. Immediately Vanessa Baraitser begins the session with a practical solution: as Julian Assange had indicated that he could hear nothing in this box, the head bailiff of the Westminster Court, whom we have been working with for 6 months, brings him headphones. Julian Assange takes them, says something, puts them on, then tries them on. But you can sense that he doesn’t want to, that he’s boycotting the situation. He takes off his grey jacket and stays in a white shirt, sits on the bench. Finally, he takes off the headphones and puts them on. The hearing will begin whether he hears or not. His complexion is still as pale as ever, he’s had his treaties drawn, I can feel him irritated, tense, tense on the seat, but not ready to collapse like the day before.

To my great surprise and disappointment there is no mention of any request for release, despite what the judge had decided the day before. We immediately follow up with what had been interrupted the day before because of Julian Assange’s state of health: the definition of “political offence” according to the American prosecution. Prosecutor Lewis resumes his monologue as if nothing had happened and as if an evening and a night had not passed in between. I am speechless. How can the procedures be violated to such an extent? If a court of law decides something should be done, it should be done. If the lawyers do not file the application for release, they must say so aloud in court and the judge must act and justify his refusal of the application to formally. But nothing of the sort happens. The whole room acts as if nothing had happened the day before, as if nothing had been said. Baraitser’s proposal has been dropped, as if it had been forgotten by the media. As if she had never uttered those words that I had reported in my article written that very night and as if Fitzgerald had not discussed this eventuality with Julian Assange in front of us. It is not possible that a dying man does not want to be set free. Julian Assange certainly formally approved the filing of this request (Application for bail, form IS 91R., a very simple form to fill in according to the guides advising Polish migrants, detainees can do it themselves without lawyers). So, what happened then? I will not know. There will be no application for release and therefore no release. And there will be no explanation from the lawyers.

Julian Assange looks like his back hurts, his face is tight, he’s trying to find a very uncomfortable place on the bench between the two guards. After an hour of accusatory logorrhea, he yawns several times, exhausted. We too have been fed up for a week and some in the audience are already sleeping. At 11.30 am we have the right to a ten minute break but we have to stay stored in the airlock in front of the emergency exit-entry of the public so as not to lose our place. The security guard even forbids me to go to the toilets near the gallery. The rest of the morning, lawyer Edward Fitzgerald explains the various British, common law and European legislation to prove that the bilateral extradition treaty of 2003 does indeed prohibit extradition for political opinion, contrary to the 1870 treaty. Julian Assange writes something throughout the pleadings, he sends three papers written in his own hand to Summers. I think he looks better, but it’s a shame that the lawyers didn’t grab the pole set by the judge to get him out on bail. Sure, bail would mean having to pay a sum of money and prove that he has an income, but anything can be done. After all, many artists have come to support him, it must be possible to raise a certain amount of money and Julian Assange, as the majority shareholder of the Icelandic company Sunshine Press Production, will finally be able to dispose of the profits from his business.

Before the lunch break, the judge and the lawyers are already discussing the organisation of the next trial in May. It is a question of deciding how to preserve the anonymity of the people who leaked UC Global’s surveillance videos and who are witnesses and in the proceedings investigated by the Spanish state. When I hear the judge say “we are going to discuss the problems that arose the day before”, I still hope to see the request for release appear on the agenda. Unfortunately, we have to spend the break in the strange airlock, stuck between the RIA in its box and the two fire doors. I bring coffees and a croissant bought in the small cafeteria of the courthouse where I meet the users of the building’s right-hand help, dissatisfied with the unusual queue they have to make to be able to have lunch. Journalists, lawyers, prosecutors and the public in Julian Assange’s trial all eat in the same place. To tell the truth, I can’t wait to get it over with, but I also want to see Julian Assange again, to understand his situation, his state of health.

At 2:00 p.m., the security guard takes us down the fire escape and into the top gallery. The guard brings in Julian Assange, who sits with his knees bent tight. Mark Summers takes the lead. He poses the problem of the session: Assange can’t hear even with the headphones on and because of his “psychiatric situation” he shouldn’t be in this cubicle. Summers argues that even in Russia the accused are not kept in a glass cage but are allowed to be with their counsel in order to communicate. Baraitser replies that they can communicate with each other very well via the system of small papers that Assange writes and passes on to the barristers or that they can interrupt the session so that they can talk to him. Summer objected that this would cause them to interrupt the session every 20 minutes for 3 minutes of discussion. Baraitser urged him not to exaggerate. While I am still waiting with hope for the request for release to appear, Summers, Lewis and Baraitser discuss the legality of the glass booth in which Assange is locked up. Shortly before 3 p.m. Baraitser cuts short and asserts his authority: of course, it is a guarantee for Mr. Assange’s “fair trial”. Then she decides that he is capable of participating in his trial, that the lawyers have no difficulty in gaining access to him, that if he does not hear and there is noise it is the fault of the troublemakers demonstrating outside (the Yellow Vests are targeted!) and that he only has to raise his hand and the session will be interrupted to rehearse. She is not responsible for Julian Assange’s “psychiatric vulneralibity”. Suddenly Baraitser gets up and orders a 5-minute break. We have the right to remain in our cubicle. I understand that the “application for bail” will not be made.

Baraitser comes back, sets the dates for the next hearings, discusses formalities with Fitzgerald: the next extension of detention hearing at the Westminster on March 25th and the management hearing on April 7th in Woolwich. It’s 3 p.m., the end is a bit chaotic. Julian Assange gets up, the young lawyers turn to him, Joseph Farell appears, he was present inside the room whereas he is not a lawyer and was not among the journalists. The private security guard wants to finish his work and fires us quickly. We go out through the entrance gate with the sign “Her Majesty Courts Services”. I am sad. Julian Assange is still locked up. Round one is over. We’re moving on.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)5

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