WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was stripped naked twice, handcuffed nearly a dozen times and had his court papers taken away from him following the first day of his extradition hearing, his lawyer complained to a judge Tuesday.
Edward Fitzgerald is arguing that the treatment Assange allegedly received at London's Belmarsh Prison on Monday “could be a contempt of this court.” The U.S. is seeking to bring his client overseas to face espionage charges.
But District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who is hearing the case, said she had no power to act unless Assange becomes unable to participate in the proceedings, which are expected to last several months.
"If it comes to that, please let me know,” the judge told Fitzgerald Tuesday at Woolwich Crown Court, located next to the prison, according to the Associated Press.
Assange is wanted in the U.S. over the leaking of classified government documents a decade ago. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
U.S. prosecutors are accusing him of conspiring with U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password, hack into a Pentagon computer and release hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They also allege that WikiLeaks' publication of the unedited documents put U.S. intelligence sources who were mentioned in them at risk of torture or death.
However, Assange says he was acting as a journalist entitled to First Amendment protection. His lawyers argue that the U.S. charges are a politically motivated abuse of power and deny Assange put lives at risk. Attorney Mark Summers added that WikiLeaks initially worked with media outlets in 2010 to publish the trove of files in edited form.
Assange has been jailed in England since April 2019, when he was evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He took refuge in the embassy seven years earlier to avoid being sent to Sweden over allegations of rape and sexual assault.
A British court handed him a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in 2012.
The extradition hearing is expected to continue for the rest of the week, then take a break before resuming in May.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.