On Monday WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was seen in rare footage captured by news crews scrambling to get a view of him leaving Westminster Magistrates’ Court in a high secure police van.
He appeared pale and frail, but according to eyewitnesses present in the court during his brief preliminary extradition hearing he looked much healthier when compared to the past few months, when in November he was reported to have lost a lot of weight amid "torturous conditions".
Former Newsweek journalist Tareq Haddad said of his short courtroom appearance Monday that he's actually "Looking much better compared to earlier reports and is able to hold a conversation with his lawyer, Gareth Peirce."
His legal team is trying to prevent a potential UK court-ordered extradition to the United States where he could face life in prison or possibly even the death penalty.
In the meantime he's reportedly held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, and has extremely limited access to his own lawyer. During an October court appearance he told judges “I can’t think properly.”
He had previously told a UK court in October that he was “in fear for his life” and reportedly struggled to even say his name, given his extreme harsh solitary conditions at Belmarsh maximum-security prison.
Assange has just walked into court 1 of Westminster Magistrates Court. Looking much better compared to earlier reports and is able to hold a conversation with his lawyer, Gareth Peirce. Updates to follow. #assange— Tareq Haddad (@Tareq_Haddad) January 13, 2020
But Monday he actually appeared to briefly communicate with supporters through a security pane in a police transport van, giving nods with a peace sign and uttering "thank you" to supporters yelling "Stay strong Julian!"
The 48-year-old Australian faces US charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and leaking state secrets, but was initially confined to Belmarsh on bail-skipping related charges, after being dragged from the Ecuadorian Embassy in April last year.
During Monday's preliminary extradition hearing Assange spoke only to give his name, date of birth and that he understood the court proceedings. His lawyer then argued that Assange has had lack of ability and access in preparing his own legal defense. According to Reuters:
The 48-year-old Australian appeared for Monday’s hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court wearing glasses and a dark blazer over a light top. He spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth to the judge and saluted his supporters in the public gallery at the beginning and end of the hearing.
Assange’s lawyer Gareth Peirce said difficulty in getting time with Assange had delayed the case, telling the court: “This slippage in the timetable is extremely worrying.”
"His lawyer Gareth Peirce raised concerns about this lack of access and told District Judge Vanessa Baraitser she has only had 2 hours with Assange since the last hearing," Tareq Haddad also confirmed.
Despite again what appears the legal system actively blocking and severely limiting access to legal counsel, Assange looked generally better and more upbeat than in prior court appearances.
Writes Haddad: "As he left the dock, Assange raised his fist at those in the public gallery. As mentioned previously, he looked in much better shape than previously reported."