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Reporters barred entry to Julian Assange court hearing as supporters fill room

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

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3 thoughts on “Reporters barred entry to Julian Assange court hearing as supporters fill room”

  1. 1) This article contains a number of key errors. There weren’t 60 spaces in the public gallery in court 1 where the hearing was heard. So the accusation that 60 supporters took up journalists’ spaces is incorrect
    2) Many journalists who turned up on time were given priority and seated before members of the public were seated
    3) The public gallery is part of the open court policy intended to increase accountability to citizens. That some of these journalists think they deserve privileges over those given to citizens is typical of certain elements of the media who somehow seem to think they are very clever and competent while showing appallingly poor judgement and credibility in reporting the truth about Assange

    1. Hi, To answer your queries. I cover many cases in Court 1 and there are many seats in the public gallery. I could not count them yesterday as security was blocking the door – but from memory having sat there many times, there are at least 60.
      Journalists tend to sit in the actual court room. I was not able to get in so was not able to see how many seats were used in the main room but the clerk told us she had allowed 13 reporters in.
      The same thing happened when Assange appeared for his bail offence at Southwark Crown Court which I assume you were at. I certainly was. And at that, the court created an overflow room with a videolink and myself, other press and supporters watched the proceeedings from there. Why could the same not be done this time? You say it was first come, first served, but I am told Assange reporters had formed a long queue from before 8am. I arrived at 9.20am when there was already massive queue. I was inside the building and outside the court room before 10am. There were two journalists from Sky News, one from BBC, one from AFP, two from a Russian news agency, one from El Diario, one from Le Monde, one from Bloomberg and myself and we were all told we could not get into the court as the public gallery was filled with Assange supporters. However, whilst I was waiting outside, Ken Livingstone was ushered in and I saw 5-6 Assange supporters get in whilst 10 members of the press were kept outside. I even got there before some of the people – including media – who were allowed inside.. So it was certainly not done on a first come first served basis. Of course the public should be allowed in as well. But it needed to be split more evenly between public and press and/or an overflow room created.

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