Protesters Rally For Assange Ahead Of Extradition Hearing In UK

Supporters gather in Parliament Square to listen to speeches after a march in support of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London on February 22, 2020, as he fights extradition to the United States. 


A few hundred protesters marched across central London Saturday to call on Britain to reject WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States at hearings that start next week.

A London court is to meet Monday to assess Washington’s request to hand over the media freedoms activist so he can be tried for releasing classified files in 2010 about US campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The 48-year-old Australian is facing 18 counts — 17 of them under the US Espionage Act — that could see him sentenced to prison terms of up to 175 years.

Supporters of Assange’s freedom gathered outside the Australian government’s representative office and then marched through central London for a rally outside parliament.

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Some chanted “journalism is not a crime” and held up banners mocking Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The UK government plays no formal role in the extradition case. Monday’s hearing is expected to last a week and then resume for a second session starting on May 18.

Any ruling is likely to be appealed by the losing side and Assange could remain locked up in a high-security London prison for many more months.

“I don’t really understand why Julian is in jail here,” Assange’s father John Shipton told the crowd on London’s Parliament Square.

Others attending included Pink Floyd rock group co-founder Roger Waters and Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

Fashion designer and activist Vivienne Westwood wore a neon green paper halo with the word “angel” written in black marker.

Assange was “the angel of democracy,” she explained.

The case was injected with a dose of intrigue last week when the defence claimed US President Donald Trump had promised to pardon Assange if he denied Russia leaked emails of his 2016 election rival’s campaign.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian GRU military intelligence agencies hacked the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the runup to the November vote.

WikiLeaks then published the stolen emails. Assange has previously said that he received them from through his website’s anonymous file-sharing system and had no idea who obtained them first.

The DNC hack plays no role in the US case against Assange and Trump denied promising a pardon.

But the court said last week that the evidence was admissible.


Iran Blasts France For ‘Interference’ Over Jailed Academic


Iran accused France on Sunday of “interference” in the case of an Iranian-French academic held in the Islamic republic, saying she is considered an Iranian national and faces security charges.

France said Friday it summoned Iran’s ambassador to protest the imprisonment of Fariba Adelkhah and another academic, Roland Marchal of France, saying their detention was “intolerable”.

Their imprisonment has added to distrust between Tehran and Paris at a time when French President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to play a leading role in defusing tensions between Iran and its arch-foe the United States.

“The statement by France’s foreign ministry regarding an Iranian national is an act of interference and we see their request to have no legal basis,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a statement.

“The individual in question (Adelkhah) is an Iranian national and has been arrested over ‘acts of espionage’,” he said, adding that her lawyer had knowledge about the details of the case which is being investigated.

Iran does not recognise dual nationality and has repeatedly rebuffed calls from foreign governments for consular access to those it has detained during legal proceedings.

In its statement on Friday, the French foreign ministry reiterated its call for the release of Adelkhah and Marshal.

It also reaffirmed France’s demand for consular access.

In response, Mousavi said Marshal was detained for “conspiring against national security”, that he has had “consular access multiple times” and that his lawyer was in touch with the judiciary.

– Hunger strikes –
A specialist in Shiite Islam and a research director at Sciences Po University in Paris, Adelkhah’s arrest for suspected “espionage” was confirmed in July.

Her colleague Marchal was arrested while visiting Adelkhah, according to his lawyer.

The university and supporters said this week that Adelkhah and another detained academic, Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert, had started an indefinite hunger strike just before Christmas.

The French statement said the ministry had made clear to the ambassador “our grave concern over the situation of Mrs Fariba Adelkhah, who has stopped taking food”.

“Creating hype cannot stop Iran’s judiciary from handling the case, especially considering the security charges the two face,” Mousavi said.

The latest tensions come after Xiyue Wang, an American scholar who had been serving 10 years on espionage charges, was released by Iran this month in exchange for Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian who had been held in the US for allegedly breaching sanctions.

Iran has said it is open to more such prisoner swaps with the United States.

Tehran is still holding several other foreign nationals in high profile cases, including British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father Mohammad Bagher Namazi.

US-Iran tensions have soared since Washington pulled out of a landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran last year and reimposed crippling sanctions.

Kremlin Says Spies Watching Russian Scientists ’24/7′

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Foreign spies keen to get their hands on Russian research are monitoring Russian scientists around the clock, the Kremlin said Wednesday, after experts denounced a new security decree as a Soviet throwback.

The Kremlin’s comments came after scientists criticised a ministry directive calling on researchers not to meet foreign colleagues one-on-one and requesting filed reports after every encounter — even a cup of coffee.

“Of course we must be somewhat vigilant, because foreign special services are on alert,” said President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov when questioned on the decree from the science and education ministry.

“There is such a thing as scientific and industrial espionage,” Peskov said. “It exists 24/7 and is targeting our scientists, especially young scientists.”

He noted however that some of the decree’s provisions “sound excessive” adding that Russia “should not be bound by some rules that won’t lead to anything good.”

The decree recommending new rules on contacting foreign scientists — or Russian scientists working for foreign institutions — was made public by Alexander Fradkov from a mechanical engineering institute.

He called the rules “absurd” and urged authorities to retract them.

Another scientist working in a physics institute confirmed to AFP that the decree — which is marked for internal use — is real.

The document imposes significant red tape on any visits by foreigners into Russian institutes, asking that they are always accompanied by a designated employee.

It requests special restrictions on their use of computers, phones and other devices, including watches and binoculars.

Fradkov told AFP that the decree reminds him of Soviet-era rules which asked that researchers always met with foreigners along with a colleague, so that one scientist could report on the other if necessary.

“All science is built on communication and exchange of information,” he told AFP. “If you go by the decree, then even having a cup of coffee with a foreign colleague requires a report afterwards.”

On Wednesday, the deputy chief of Russia’s Academy of Sciences Alexei Khokhlov joined the criticism of the decree, writing on Facebook that it goes against the government’s goals to increase the number of foreign students and ease their subsequent employment in Russia.

The science and education ministry on Wednesday argued that the decree “reflected global practice” on international scientific conduct, according to a statement quoted by TASS agency.

US Consulate Employee Charged With Espionage In Turkey


A Turkish court on Friday accepted an indictment charging a local employee of the US consulate in Istanbul with espionage and attempting to overthrow the government, state media reported.

Metin Topuz, who liaised with the US Drug Enforcement Agency for the American mission, is accused of having links to US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Ankara alleges that Gulen ordered a failed coup in 2016, but he denies the claims.

The Istanbul court, which accepted the prosecutor’s indictment issued last month, ordered Topuz to remain in jail, state news agency Anadolu said. 

He has been in custody since September 2017.

Topuz’s trial will begin on March 26 and the first hearing will last three days. He faces life in jail if found guilty.

The consulate employee is suspected of having contacts with former police officers and a prosecutor on the run accused of links with the Gulen movement, Anadolu reported.

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The agency added that the indictment claimed Topuz had “very intense contacts” with former police chiefs involved in a 2013 probe into corruption allegations that affected government officials at the time. 

Ankara has dismissed that investigation as an attempted “judicial coup” against the government by the Gulen movement.

Topuz had been at the centre of a visa row between Ankara and Washington in late 2017 after his arrest.

Turkey-US relations have been strained in recent years over multiple issues including the US refusing to extradite Gulen.

There was also a bitter row last summer over the detention of an American pastor, but tensions eased after his release in October.

The court’s decision comes a day after a judge in the southeastern city of Mardin convicted a former local employee of the US consulate in Adana, southern Turkey.

Hamza Ulucay was found guilty of helping outlawed Kurdish militants, and sentenced to four years and six months in jail.

But the Mardin court ruled he be released because of the time he had already served in jail since March 2017.


Australian Film-Maker Jailed For Six Years For ‘Espionage’

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson reacts as he attempts to speak to journalists from a prison vehicle after his verdict at the Phnom Penh court on August 31, 2018. TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP


An Australian filmmaker was sentenced to six years in prison on Friday after being convicted of espionage in Cambodia in a case that Human Rights Watch slammed as a “ludicrous charade”.

James Ricketson has been held in jail since his arrest in June last year after he flew a drone over a rally held by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved months later.

The CNRP’s dissolution paved the way for strongman premier Hun Sen to win a clean sweep of all parliamentary seats in July’s national election, which Western democracies have said was flawed in the absence of a viable opposition.

After a six-day trial, Judge Seng Leang found the 69-year-old Ricketson guilty on two charges of espionage.

“We have decided to convict (him) to six years in prison for espionage and collecting harmful information that could affect national defence,” he said.

The prosecution had accused Ricketson of working as a filmmaker in Cambodia for years as a front for spying.

“Unbelievable — which country am I spying for?” Ricketson asked out loud in court.

His lawyer Kong Sam Onn told reporters waiting outside the court that he plans to request a royal pardon from the Cambodian king.

Earlier this week 14 opposition lawmakers and activists jailed before the election were released after sending apology letters to Hun Sen, which the premier said he sent on to the monarch.

Calling the result “devastating”, Ricketson’s son Jesse said he could not comment on whether an apology letter to Hun Sen was forthcoming to secure his father’s release.

Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson decried the court’s findings on Friday, saying that the trial “exposed everything that’s wrong with the Cambodian judicial system”.

Robertson said the Australian was used as a “scapegoat” by the government to crack down on political opposition.

He also criticised what he said was inaction by the Australian government in “failing to publicly and consistently challenge this ludicrous charade and demand Ricketson’s immediate and unconditional release.”

In the months leading up to the election, the Hun Sen-backed government cracked down on opposition lawmakers, journalists and activists.

Ricketson has faced legal problems in the past. He was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence in 2014 for allegedly threatening to broadcast allegations that a church working in Cambodia had sold children.

Two years later, he was fined after a court found him guilty of defaming an anti-paedophile NGO by accusing the group of manipulating witnesses.


China Rejects Pentagon Charges Of Military Espionage

China is using espionage to acquire technology to fuel its military modernization, the Pentagon said on Monday, for the first time accusing the Chinese of trying to break into U.S. defense computer networks and prompting a firm denial from Beijing.

In its 83-page annual report to Congress on Chinese military developments, the Pentagon also cited progress in Beijing’s effort to develop advanced-technology stealth aircraft and build an aircraft carrier fleet to project power further offshore.

The report said China’s cyber snooping was a “serious concern” that pointed to an even greater threat because the “skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks.”

“The U.S. government continued to be targeted for (cyber) intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military,” it said, adding the main purpose of the hacking was to gain information to benefit defense industries, military planners and government leaders.

A spokeswoman said it was the first time the annual Pentagon report had cited Beijing for targeting U.S. defense networks, but China dismissed the report as groundless.

The U.S. Defense Department had repeatedly “made irresponsible comments about China’s normal and justified defense build-up and hyped up the so-called China military threat,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

“This is not beneficial to U.S.-China mutual trust and cooperation,” Hua told reporters. “We are firmly opposed to this and have already made representations to the U.S. side.”

China’s defense build-up was geared towards protecting its “national independence and sovereignty,” Hua said.

On the accusations of hacking, Hua said: “We firmly oppose any groundless criticism and hype, because groundless hype and criticism will only harm bilateral efforts at cooperation and dialogue.”

Despite concerns over the intrusions, a senior U.S. defense official said his main worry was the lack of transparency.

“What concerns me is the extent to which China’s military modernization occurs in the absence of the type of openness and transparency that others are certainly asking of China,” David Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, told a Pentagon briefing on the report.

He warned of the “potential implications and consequences of that lack of transparency on the security calculations of others in the region.”

The annual China report, which Congress began requesting in 2000, comes amid ongoing tensions in the region due to China’s military assertiveness and expansive claims of sovereignty over disputed islands and shoals. Beijing has ongoing territorial disputes with the Philippines, Japan and other neighbors.

Beijing’s publicly announced defense spending has grown at an inflation-adjusted pace of nearly 10 percent annually over the past decade, but Helvey said China’s actual outlays were thought to be higher.

China announced a 10.7 percent increase in military spending to $114 billion in March, the Pentagon report said. Publicly announced defense spending for 2012 was $106 billion, but actual spending for 2012 could range between $135 billion and $215 billion, it said. U.S. defense spending is more than double that, at more than $500 billion.

The report highlighted China’s continuing efforts to gain access to sophisticated military technology to fuel its modernization program. It cited a laundry list of methods, including “state-sponsored industrial and technical espionage to increase the level of technologies and expertise available to support military research, development and acquisition.”

Dean Cheng, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, said he was surprised by the number of cases of human espionage cited in the report.

“This is a PLA (People’s Liberation Army) that is extensively, comprehensively modernizing,” Cheng said. “…China is also comprehensively engaging in espionage.”

China tested its second advanced stealth fighter in as many years in October 2012, highlighting its “continued ambition to produce advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft,” the report said. Neither aircraft of its stealth aircraft was expected to achieve effective operational capability before 2018, it said.

Last year also saw China commission its first domestically produced aircraft carrier. China currently has one aircraft carrier bought abroad and conducted its first takeoff and landing from the ship in November.