WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange yesterday appeared in public for the first time in six months, seeming frail and confused during a British court appearance ahead of his extradition hearing.
The 48-year-old Australian is fighting a United States bid to extradite him on charges filed under the US Espionage Act, and sat in the witness box as a London court decided the timetable of his full hearing, due to begin in February.
Although clean shaven and dressed smartly in a blue jacket, blue jumper and dark trousers, Assange appeared confused whenever he was asked to talk at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
He seemed to have difficulties recalling his birth date, and at the end of the hearing told District Judge Vanessa Baraitser that he had not understood what had happened in court.
He then complained about the conditions in which he was being kept at the high-security Belmarsh prison in southeast London.
“I can’t access any of my writings, it’s very difficult to do anything and these people have unlimited resources, they have an unfair advantage,” he said in a barely audible voice.
Assange also suggested that someone had tried to steal his children’s DNA before adding: “I can’t think properly”. It was his first public appearance since being dramatically dragged from Ecuador’s embassy in April.
He could be sentenced to spend up to 175 years in a US prison if convicted on all charges.
Baraitser rejected his legal team’s request for more time to gather evidence, telling Assange his next case management hearing would take place on December 19, before a full extradition hearing in February.