Julian Assange refused to attend a court hearing Monday in England, even as a group of Australian lawmakers, journalists and human rights advocates pushed for him to be released on bail. A judge in London said an email from the prison where the WikiLeaks founder is being held said that Assange was "refusing to attend the hearing and refusing to sign a refusal form," 7 News Australia reports. Asked if he was ill, Assange's lawyers said he's "had respiratory problems for some time." His extradition hearing is scheduled for September. Assange faces 17 charges in the US under the Espionage Act, as well as conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, per the Guardian. The due date for psychiatric reports on Assange from both sides was postponed till July 31.
Australia's government is under pressure to step in to try to win Assange's release on bail. A letter to the foreign minister cited the delays in the extradition hearings "while deaths within the UK prison populations and illness amongst judicial and penal staff cohorts continue to rise" during the pandemic. Defense lawyers say his lung issues put Assange at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus, and they have complained about their lack of access to him in Belmarsh prison, which is in lockdown. Journalists have said poor audio connections make it difficult for them to monitor the court hearings. A backlog blamed on the pandemic has hindered the search for a new court to take up the extradition case. (Read more Julian Assange stories.)