Reporters were barred from attending a hearing for Julian Assange’s US extradition case this morning after the courtroom was filled with some 60 supporters of the Wikileaks founder.
Ten journalists were initially told they could not enter the court room at Westminster Magistrates’ Court because it was full up, according to freelancer Naomi Canton working for the Times of India.
Canton was one of those barred from entering the room alongside reporters from the BBC, Sky News, Bloomberg, AFP, French newspaper Le Monde, Spanish newspaper El Diario and a Russian news agency.
Reporters were told there were already 13 journalists attending the case management hearing and were refused the ability to watch via video link in another room, as in previous hearings, according to Canton.
The BBC, Sky, AFP and the Russian news agency were later allowed in, leaving reporters with Bloomberg, Times of India and Le Monde unable to cover the opening stages of the hearing, Press Gazette understands.
Canton said: “In previous cases at this court, where there have been too many people, normally they let the press in first and only after that allow the public in.
“On this occasion they seem to have allowed 60 Assange supporters in who took up all the seats.
“There is no press gallery, as such, at this court – there is a big public gallery with around 60 seats at the back – and the media tend to sit on chairs within the court room.”
Press Gazette understands tickets were issued on a first come first served basis to the press and that capacity for journalists was reached, while a decision had been taken not to allow people to stand in the room.
Canton added: “Police and security would not let us in. We showed our press cards and pleaded with them to either let us in or do a video-link to an overflow room.
“This is what had happened at Assange’s bail offence hearing at Southwark Crown Court – they had created an overflow room and I had covered it from there. This time they refused.”
Press Gazette understands reporters for Bloomberg and El Diario were later allowed into the room after court sketchers, who draw the likenesses of those central to a case as pictures are not allowed, had left.
Canton said she was told by Assange supporters they had queued to enter the court from 8am, with the court’s doors only opening at 9am.
It is understood that former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone was among the group of Assange supporters allowed into court.
The Met confirmed police attended the scene as a result of a protest by Assange supporters (pictured) and said press attendance was a matter for the court. The Ministry of Justice declined to comment.
Assange is fighting a US extradition order over allegations of conspiring to hack into a classified Pentagon computer.
He is currently serving a 50-week jail sentence for skipping bail in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual offence charges, which he denies.
The Australian national lived in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years but was arrested by police in April after his asylum status was withdrawn by the South American country’s president.
Picture: Naomi Canton