World

Assange blocked from seeing evidence

By AAP Newswire

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been blocked from seeing evidence in his extradition case, a court has heard.

The 48-year-old appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court by video-link on Friday for a hearing to extend his custody in Belmarsh Prison, in southeast London.

He is being held in the high-security jail ahead of a full hearing in February when he will fight extradition to the US, where he faces 18 charges, including conspiring to commit computer intrusion.

Assange is accused of working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

With unkempt white hair and beard, he appeared uncomfortable as he sat waiting for the hearing to start, clenching his hands before putting them inside the sleeves of his grey sweater.

He spoke to confirm his name and date of birth, saying: "I do, but I'm an Australian", after the court's legal adviser had mistakenly suggested he was a Swedish national.

The court heard his lawyers had made a request to the judge, complaining about a lack of access to their client behind bars.

Gareth Peirce, defending Assange, said his legal team was struggling to prepare documents for the case as Assange had no access to the evidence.

"Without Mr Assange's knowledge, some of it is recently acquired evidence, some of it is subject to months of investigation not always in this country, of which he is unaware because of the blockage in visits," she said.

"Despite our best efforts, Mr Assange has not been given what he must be given, and we are doing our utmost to cut through this."

Ms Peirce said the governor of Belmarsh had prioritised family visits over legal visits and asked the judge to step in.

But District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said she had no jurisdiction over the Prison Service.

"Can I make it clear that I have no desire to stand in the way of any lawyer having proper access to their client and it's in the interest of justice that they do," she said.

"What I can do and say is to state in open court that it would be helpful to this extradition process that Mr Assange's lawyers have the access to their client."

Assange's lawyers have previously complained that he had been given access to an unsuitable computer in prison.

It comes weeks after more than 60 doctors warned in an open letter addressed to Home Secretary Priti Patel that he could die in prison without urgent medical care.

He was jailed for 50 weeks in May for breaching his bail conditions after going into hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex offence allegations which have been dropped.