London, Apr 27: The hearings on the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States have been rescheduled until after November 2, due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, UK Judge Vanessa Baraitser said on Monday.
The hearings were expected to start on May 18. November 2 is the earliest beginning date for the three-week hearings, the judge said. The decision came after Assange's lawyer Edward Fitzgerald once again asked the court on Monday for the extradition hearing to be delayed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to him, he has not had direct access to Assange for over a month due to coronavirus restrictions. He also said that witnesses would not be able to travel to attend the trial amid the lockdown. The judge agreed that it would be difficult to organize their testimony, as many of them live abroad.
The proceedings have been fully suspended until May 4 so that Assange's legal team and the US representatives could agree on the schedules. Assange himself did not appear at the Monday hearing on medical grounds.
His legal team believes that "moving to, and using, the video link room in the prison is too great a risk." The high-security Belmarsh prison, where he is being held, has reportedly recorded two coronavirus deaths. Assange faces extradition to America on charges that he conspired to disclose documents passed to him by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
The 48-year-old has been in a London jail for a year since he was kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy where he was hiding from Swedish sexual-assault allegations. (UNI)