Julian Assange Granted Right To Challenge US Extradiction Order

The United States has been handed yet another setback in its lengthy attempt to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Sky News reported that the High Court In London has ruled that Julian Assange has the right to appeal in his final challenge against extradition to the US – a decision that was celebrated by his supporters outside the courtroom.

The ruling is the latest twist in a legal battle that has spanned 13 years, with Assange facing over 18 charges, nearly all under the Espionage Act, which could theoretically entail the death penalty or life in prison.

High court ruling

According to Sky News, Assange’s legal team had argued in Monday’s hearing that the judges, Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson, should not accept the assurances given by US prosecutors that he could seek to rely upon the rights and protections under the US First Amendment.

In March, the court had delayed its decision on an extradition as the judges sought a series of assurances – around the death penalty and two other conditions: namely that Assange would be able to rely on the first amendment to the US constitution (which protects free speech); and that his Australian nationality would not count against him.

In April the US pledged not to impose the death penalty on Julian Assange, and issued other first amendment assurances in an effort to prevent a last minute appeal against the extradition order.

According to Sky News the High Court was told on Monday that the United States would not seek a death penalty if Assange is extradited.

“The United States assures that he will not be tried for a death-eligible offence,” according to documents submitted by lawyers representing the US government.

However Edward Fitzgerald KC, representing Assange, reportedly criticised the Biden Administration’s assurances at the hearing.

“Based on the principle of the separation of powers, the US court can and will apply US law, whatever the executive may say or do,” Fitzgerald KC reportedly said.

He added most of the promises were “blatantly inadequate” – but they had accepted the promise about the death penalty.

But James Lewis KC, representing the US government, insisted the “judicial branch of the United States will take due notice of this solemn assurance given by its government in the course of international relations”.

In written submissions, he said there is “no question” that Assange, if extradited, “will be entitled to the full panoply of due process trial rights, including the right to raise, and seek to rely upon, the First Amendment as a defence”.

In a short ruling, the High Court judges said the US submissions were not sufficient, granting Assange permission to a full appeal in relation to the points on freedom of speech and nationality.

A date has not yet been set for the next hearing.

Had the court ruled in the US’s favour, Assange would have exhausted all legal avenues in the UK.

Espionage charges

Julian Assange is wanted by the US Justice Department, which has accused him of violating the Espionage Act, after he received top secret data (from Chelsea Manning) and unlawfully published the names of classified sources back in 2010 and 2011.

Assange was indicted on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of the classified US documents.

Assange denies any wrongdoing, but faces potentially 175 years in prison.

Assange has been held in London’s Belmarsh prison since his arrest in April 2019 after leaving the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had claimed political asylum in June 2012 in order to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault (which he alleged was a US ruse for his extradition to the US).

The Swedish investigation was dropped in 2019.

Extradition battle

Since then Assange has been fighting attempts by the United States to extradite him to America in UK courts.

His resistance seem to have paid off in January 2021, when District Judge Vanessa Baraitser in London had blocked the US extradition request because of concerns over Assange’s mental health and risk of suicide in America.

But in August 2021, Assange lost a legal battle to stop the US appeal, after a British judge ruled the United States could expand its extradition case against the Wikileaks co-founder.

Then in October 2021 lawyers for the US told the High Court that the judge who had blocked Julian Assange’s extradition in January, had been misled by his psychiatrist.

Senior judges had found that the district judge had based the extradition refusal ruling on the risk of Assange being held in highly restrictive prison conditions if extradited.

The judges however sided with the US authorities after a package of assurances were put forward that Assange would not face those strictest measures, either pre-trial or post-conviction unless he committed an act in the future that required them.

The High Court in December 2021 then ruled that Julian Assange could be extradited to the US, with Assange’s legal team stating an appeal immediately.

That appeal saw Assange continue to resist attempts to extradite him to the US.

At a two-day hearing in February 2024, which Assange was too unwell to attend, his lawyers reportedly argued that he faced a “flagrant denial of justice” if prosecuted in the US.

Australian request

Meanwhile in February the Australian parliament had passed a motion calling for the return of Julian Assange to Australia.

Last month US President Joe Biden said that he was considering a request from Australia to drop the long-running attempt to prosecute Julian Assange.

The US President was asked about the Australian request to drop the case against Assange, as he hosted the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, for an official visit.

President Biden was quoted by media outlets as saying: “We’re considering it.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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