Nappy DNA test claim aired amid Assange anonymity battle

A claim that US agencies expressed an interest in testing DNA on nappies, when Julian Assange’s partner and children visited him in the Ecuadorian embassy, has been aired in court.

A judge found that even if the allegation were true, there was no reason to believe US agencies meant harm to Assange’s young family.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser referred to the claim as she had turned down a bid to grant Assange’s partner anonymity, during a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

The court heard how the unnamed woman wished to lived “quietly” with her young children, away from the glare of publicity that Assange attracted.

Assange’s barrister Edward Fitzgerald QC had applied for the anonymity order after the woman made a statement in support of Assange’s earlier failed bail application.

Following a submission by the PA news agency via telephone conference to the court, Judge Baraitser ruled that the woman’s right to a private family life was outweighed by the need for open justice.

Julian Assange
Julian Assange

However, the judge delayed making the woman’s identity public until 4pm on April 14, pending a possible judicial review at the High Court.

During the virtual hearing, the judge also rejected a bid to delay Assange’s extradition hearing at Belmarsh magistrates’ court because of the coronavirus crisis.

Assange, 48, is being held on remand in high-security Belmarsh prison, in south-east London, ahead of the hearing fixed for May 18.

Assange is fighting to avoid being sent to the US to face 17 charges under the Espionage Act, and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, after the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011.

Mr Fitzgerald highlighted “insuperable” difficulties preparing his case because of the pandemic, and called for an adjournment until September.

He told the court by telephone that he had not been able to see Assange at Belmarsh prison and given the current crisis, he could see “no viable” way Assange could be present in court to hear witnesses.

On his client’s mental state, he told the judge: “There are difficulties of the pandemic with the defendant himself. You are aware, I think that…he has well documented problems of clinical depression.”

His treatment was on hold during the lockdown and he had been unable to see his family.

Julian Assange extradition
Julian Assange extradition

The barrister said: “In those circumstances, in his vulnerable condition, to force him to enter a full evidential hearing in May, we respectfully submit it would be unjust. We respectfully submit it would be oppressive.”

He suggested the lockdown conditions might have to continue for as long as 12 weeks, well after the proposed start of the full extradition hearing.

He stressed it was an “exceptional circumstance”, saying: “This is not a case where second best will do, where we should just try to muddle through.

“The difficulties are insuperable in the current crisis.”

Ruling against him, Judge Baraitser said the extradition hearing was still five weeks away and it was expected courts would resume in a fortnight.

She said: “I cannot assume the courts will not be operating normally by then.

“Mr Assange is in custody and there is some urgency of this case being heard to its conclusion.”

If there was a need for a third and final hearing after the hearing on May 18, it would be held in July.