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Julian Assange in 2017 Alamy Stock Photo
Wikileaks Founder

Julian Assange's last-ditch appeal on extradition to US delayed by UK court

The two UK judges have given Washington three weeks to provide “assurances” in the case.

TWO UK JUDGES have delayed a decision on whether to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a last-ditch appeal against extradition to the US, giving Washington three weeks to provide “assurances” in the case.

The US wants the 52-year-old Australian citizen to stand trial there for WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic files in 2010 relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Attempting to halt the process, he had suffered a string of court losses in the long-running legal saga, which his supporters see as a battle for media freedom.

But following two days of evidence last month, the judges in London said Assange had “a real prospect of success” on three of his nine grounds of appeal.

Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson gave Washington three weeks to provide fresh assurances over concerns he will be prejudiced at trial because he is not an American citizen and that he could face the death penalty if convicted.

“Before making a final decision on the application for leave to appeal, we will give the respondent an opportunity to give assurances,” the pair wrote in their 66-page ruling.

“If assurances are not given then we will grant leave to appeal without a further hearing.

“If assurances are given then we will give the parties an opportunity to make further submissions before we make a final decision.”

‘Bad faith’

Assange, who has been held at a high-security London prison on remand since 2019, was not in court for the latest ruling, which was released online and not in a hearing.

He was absent from court on both days in February and did not follow the proceedings via video due to illness, his lawyer said at the time.

If he eventually loses the appeal bid, the Wikileaks’ founder will have exhausted all UK appeals and will be set to enter the extradition process.

However, his team has previously indicated they will ask the European courts to intervene and that they would be given 14 days to do so.

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

Major media organisations, press freedom advocates and the Australian parliament have all denounced the prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act, which has never been used over the publishing of classified information.

Washington alleges that Assange and others at WikiLeaks recruited and agreed with hackers to conduct “one of the largest compromises of classified information” in US history.

During last month’s hearing, lawyers for the US government defended the case on various legal grounds.

Legal saga

Lawyers for Assange submitted that the charges were “political” and that he was being prosecuted “for engaging in ordinary journalistic practice of obtaining and publishing classified information”.

They also argued that the decades-long prison sentence he faces if convicted was “disproportionate”, and Washington had acted in “bad faith”, contravening its extradition treaty with Britain.

Before going to prison, Assange spent seven years holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault which were later dropped.

The High Court had blocked his extradition, but then reversed the decision on appeal in 2021 after the US vowed not to imprison him in its most extreme prison, “ADX Florence”.

It also pledged not to subject him to the harsh regime known as “Special Administrative Measures”, and to allow him to eventually serve out his sentence in Australia.

In March 2022, the UK Supreme Court refused permission to appeal, arguing Assange failed to “raise an arguable point of law”.

Months later, ex-interior minister Priti Patel formally signed off on his extradition.

Assange was seeking permission to review that decision and the 2021 appeal ruling.

© AFP 2024