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London court set to rule on Julian Assange extradition

Julian Assange UK appeal decision expected Tuesday: court listings
Source: Video Screenshot

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could find out on Monday whether he has won a reprieve in his last-ditch legal battle to avoid extradition from Britain to the United States.

The 52-year-old Australian is seeking permission to appeal a ruling allowing him to be sent to face a US trial on espionage charges, after a long-running court saga.

Two London High Court judges handling Assange’s request adjourned the case in March, asking US government lawyers to give “satisfactory assurances” about free speech protections and that he would not face the death penalty if convicted.

Those submissions were presented at a hearing on Monday, which Assange did not attend. The judges could rule immediately afterwards.

In written submissions for the hearing, Edward Fitzgerald, representing Assange, accepted as “unambiguous” US government assurances that he would not face the death penalty.

But he queried whether his client could rely on the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which covers freedom of speech and freedom of the press, at trial.

James Lewis, representing the US government, told the court Assange’s conduct was “simply unprotected” by the First Amendment.

It does not apply to anyone “in relation to publication of illegally obtained national defence information giving the names of innocent sources to their grave and imminent risk of harm”, he submitted.

If successful, Assange will be able to go back to domestic UK courts.

If he loses, he could be swiftly extradited after a five-year legal battle that has pitted Washington and London against free-speech campaigners.

Assange’s only hope would then be to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which could order a stay on the extradition if it decides there are “exceptional circumstances”.

It would also require London to accept the order.

But this is uncertain because of a separate dispute with the European court which blocked the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Dozens of Assange supporters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London early Monday, many wearing T-shirts bearing Assange’s face.

“This man’s life is at stake,” 83-year-old sculptor Jenny West told AFP. “He represents all other journalists, it’s a pressing humanitarian situation,” she added.


– ‘Corrupt’ –


Assange has been detained in the high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since April 2019.

He was arrested after spending seven years holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault that were eventually dropped.

US authorities want to put Assange on trial for divulging US military secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He is accused of publishing some 700,000 confidential documents relating to US military and diplomatic activities, starting in 2010.

The United States has accused Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, which his supporters warn mean he could be sentenced to 175 years in prison.

UK courts approved the extradition request after the United States vowed that Assange would not go to its most extreme prison, “ADX Florence”, nor to subject him to the harsh regime known as “Special Administrative Measures”.

His supporters have criticised the legal proceedings he has faced.

“It is abundantly clear of course that the process in the court in the United Kingdom is corrupt. The case is rigged against Julian,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, told reporters last Wednesday.

Assange’s supporters say his health is fragile and the Council of Europe this week voiced concern about his treatment.

The United States indicted Assange multiple times between 2018 and 2020 but President Joe Biden has faced domestic and international pressure to drop the case filed under his predecessor Donald Trump.

Biden indicated recently that the United States was considering an Australian request to drop the charges.


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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