It’s Tuesday, February 25, at the Woolwich Crown Court in London, where the second day of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing is taking place. The legal marathon that will decide the fate of the founder of WikiLeaks, claimed by the United States for ” spying “, started the day before.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser returns after a short break and Mark Summers, one of the Australian's counsel, approaches the microphone and resumes his presentation. The cathedral silence of the courtroom is disturbed by a rumor, then by an embarrassment. The judge gestured towards the empty glass walls of the accused's box. Julian Assange is not there. The law clerk responsible for ordering his entry into the courtroom forgot him and his own lawyer did not notice.
Can we blame them? The Australian will have gone through most of the first phase of his extradition hearing, which ended Thursday, February 27, like a ghost, in solitary confinement in an accused box too large for him. Sitting on a bright blue bench that contrasts with the pallor of his face, the founder of WikiLeaks spent long hours listening, concentrated but passive, his lawyers fighting foot to foot against their counterparts representing the United States to spare him 175 years in prison that threaten him on the other side of the Atlantic.
This prospect electrified his supporters. Neither the cold, nor the rain, nor even the snow deterred them: for four days, they stood up in front of the court. Monday, there were more than a hundred, including many “yellow vests” from France. A few tents have been pitched and from time to time chants and slogans make their way into the courtroom.
The four days of barren legal debate seem far from this anger. While the lawyers juggle the thick filing cabinets containing their arguments, the atmosphere is even relaxed. In this play, of which both parties already know the lines – the plays they produce and their arguments have long been communicated to the opposing camp – one would almost forget the tensions and the stakes of this extraordinary trial.
It was the main stakeholder who recalled him most strikingly on Wednesday. As the judge, noticing his tiredness, asks him if he can still follow the debate, Julian Assange stands up and approaches his face to the space left between the glass walls which separates him from the public and the lawyers. “Why ask me if I can concentrate since I can't participate?” I am as active in this audience as I would be at Wimbledon. “