Julian Assange Wins Temporary Reprieve For US Extradition Appeal

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been handed a legal lifeline in his desperate fight to avoid extradition to the United States to face espionage charges.

At the High Court in London this week, the Guardian reported that Assange was granted a temporary reprieve against his extradition order, after two judges ruled the WikiLeaks founder could take his case to an appeal hearing – but only if the Biden administration is unable to provide the court with suitable assurances.

Assange has been seeking leave to appeal against his extradition to the US where he wanted over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Appeal decision

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

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

Also last month the Australian parliament had passed a motion calling for the return of Julian Assange to Australia.

Now according to the Guardian, the president of the king’s bench division in London, Victoria Sharp, and Mr Justice Johnson have reportedly said Assange had real prospects of success on three of the nine grounds argued, but adjourned the leave to appeal application to give the US government three weeks to allay their concerns on the relevant matters.

If Assange had been denied permission to appeal he could have been extradited within days to the US.

The decision by the two judges means Assange can remain in the United Kingdom until the court receives the US reassurance, but his position is tenuous at best.

In a written judgement handed down on Tuesday, Sharp reportedly said the concerns that could be likely to succeed at appeal but which “may be capable of being addressed by assurances” were “that the applicant [Assange] is permitted to rely on the first amendment, that the applicant is not prejudiced at trial, including sentence, by reason of his nationality, that he is afforded the same first amendment protections as a United States citizen, and that the death penalty is not imposed”.

Stella Assange reaction

Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, reportedly expressed dismay at the judges’ decision. “What the courts have done has been to invite a political intervention from the United States … send a letter saying ‘its all OK’,” she said. “I find this astounding.

“This case is a retribution. It is a signal to all of you that if you expose the interests that are driving war they will come after you, they will put you in prison and will try to kill you,” she was quoted as saying.

“The Biden administration should not issue assurances. They should drop this shameful case that should never have been brought.”

The Guardian noted that ahead of the decision there had been reports that the US government was considering a plea deal offer to Assange, allowing him to admit to a misdemeanour, which would enable him to walk free from prison in the UK, but his lawyers said they were unaware of any change in approach.

The US has been given until 16 April to file assurances. If it does not do so, leave to appeal will be granted. If it does, they will be considered at another hearing provisionally listed for 20 May, the Guardian reported.

Leaked documents

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.

He is wanted in America over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

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.

The Swedish investigation was dropped in 2019.

Extradition battle

Since then Assange has been fighting attempts by the United States to extradite him to the US.

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.

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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