The U.S. Is Set to Appeal the U.K.’s Refusal to Extradite Julian Assange
LONDON — The U.S. government is scheduled to ask Britain’s High Court on Wednesday to overturn a judge’s decision that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be sent to the United States to face espionage charges.
In January, a lower court judge refused an American request to extradite Assange on spying charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret military documents a decade ago.
Vanessa Baraitser (district judge) denied Assange extradition citing health reasons. Assange is likely to die in the U.S. if he was held in harsh prison conditions. She rejected the defense argument that Assange is facing a politically motivated American trial that would override freedom-of-speech protections. However, she stated that Assange would be given a fair trial by the U.S. judiciary system.
The U.S. authorities granted lawyers permission to appeal. At an earlier hearing they questioned the psychiatric evidence in the case and argued that Assange does not meet the threshold of being “so ill” that he cannot resist harming himself.
Assange, who is being held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, is expected to attend the two-day hearing by video link. The two justices hearing the appeal — who include England’s most senior judge, Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett — are not expected to give their ruling for several weeks.
The epic legal saga will not be ended by that, as the losing side may appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court.
U.S. prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents. Assange faces a maximum of 175 years imprisonment.
According to the prosecutors, Assange illegally assisted Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst for U.S. Army, in stealing classified diplomatic cables as well as military documents that WikiLeaks published later. Assange lawyers claim that Assange was acting in journalistic capacity and has First Amendment rights to freedom of speech for documents that reveal U.S. wrongdoings in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Assange is 50 and has been locked up since April 2019. He was detained for failing to pay bail during another legal battle. Before that he spent seven years holed up inside Ecuador’s London embassy, where he fled in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.
Sweden ended the investigations into sex-related crimes in November 2019. Assange, however, remains locked up. The judge who blocked extradition in January ordered that he must stay in custody during any U.S. appeal, ruling that the Australian citizen “has an incentive to abscond” if he is freed.
WikiLeaks supporters say testimony from witnesses during the extradition hearing that Assange was spied on while in the embassy by a Spanish security firm at the behest of the CIA — and that there was even talk of abducting or killing him — undermines U.S. claims he will be treated fairly.
Human rights organizations as well as journalism groups called on President Joe Biden for an end to the Donald Trump-inspired prosecution.
Agnes Callamard (Amnesty International Secretary General) said that these charges are politically motivated and must be dropped.
“It is a damning indictment that nearly 20 years on, virtually no one responsible for alleged U.S. war crimes committed in the course of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars has been held accountable, let alone prosecuted, and yet a publisher who exposed such crimes is potentially facing a lifetime in jail,” she said.