President Biden ‘Considering’ Request To Drop Julian Assange Charges

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said that he is considering a request from Australia to drop the long-running attempt to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

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

The country’s prime minister Anthony Albanese, who was one of 86 MPs who voted in favour of the call (against 42 who opposed). The Aussie PM said he hoped the case could be “resolved amicably.”

Australian request

Now on Wednesday, 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 the Guardian newspaper and other media outlets as saying: “We’re considering it.”

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.

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.

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.

High Court ruling

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.

In March the High Court in London 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.

That British ruling came amid reports that the US government was considering a plea deal offer for Assange, allowing him to admit to a misdemeanour, which would enable him to walk free from prison in the UK.

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.

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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