Court rules WikiLeaks founder Assange can appeal US extradition order

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can appeal against his extradition to the United States on espionage charges, a London court ruled Monday – a decision that risks further prolonging what has already been a long-running legal saga.

High Court judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson said Assange had grounds to challenge the British government’s extradition order.

Assange, 52, was indicted on 17 counts of espionage and one count of misuse of a computer following the publication of a trove of classified US documents on his website almost 15 years ago .

His supporters cheered and applauded outside the court as news of the decision reached them from inside the royal courts of justice.

The Australian computer scientist has spent the last five years in a high-security British prison after taking refuge for seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The WikiLeaks founder was not present in court to hear the debate over his fate. He did not appear for health reasons, his lawyer said.

Assange’s lawyers argued Monday that the United States had provided “manifestly insufficient” assurances that the WikiLeaks founder would receive free press protection if extradited to the United States.

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Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said prosecutors had failed to ensure that Assange, who is an Australian citizen and claims protections as a journalist for publishing classified US information, could rely on the protections of the press provided for by the First Amendment to the American Constitution.

“The real question is whether adequate insurance was provided to eliminate the actual risk identified by the court,” Fitzgerald said. “It is submitted that no adequate assurance was given.”

US prosecutors say Assange encouraged and assisted US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in stealing diplomatic cables and military files released by WikiLeaks.

Assange’s lawyers argued that he was a journalist who exposed wrongdoing by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sending him to the United States, they said, would expose him to politically motivated prosecution and risk a “blatant denial of justice.”

The US government says Assange’s actions went far beyond those of a journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempted solicitation, theft and indiscriminate publication of classified government documents.

In March, the two High Court judges rejected the bulk of Assange’s arguments, but said he could take his case to the Court of Appeal unless the United States guaranteed that he would not would not face the death penalty if extradited and would benefit from the same free speech protections as a U.S. citizen. citizen.

The court said that if Assange could not rely on the First Amendment, then his extradition would be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, which also guarantees freedom of expression and protection of the media.

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The United States has provided these assurances, but Assange’s legal team and supporters say they are not good enough to send him to the US federal court system because the First Amendment promises are not up to par. height. The United States said Assange could seek to rely on the amendment, but it would be up to a judge to decide whether he could.

Lawyer James Lewis, representing the United States, said Assange’s conduct was “simply not protected” by the First Amendment.

“No person, neither United States nor foreign citizen, has the right to rely on the First Amendment to publish illegally obtained national defense information naming innocent sources, with the risk of harm serious and imminent,” Lewis said.

Some held a large white banner aimed at President Joe Biden, urging: “Let him go Joe.”

Assange’s lawyers say he faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted, although U.S. authorities have said any sentence would likely be much shorter.

Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, including seven years spent in the Ecuadorian embassy in London from 2012 to 2019. He spent the last five years in a British high security center. prison.

Commuters exiting a metro stop near the courthouse couldn’t miss a large sign bearing Assange’s photo and the words: “Publishing is not a crime.” War crimes are. Dozens of supporters gathered outside the neo-Gothic Royal Courts of Justice chanting “Free Julian Assange” and “Freedom of the press, freedom of Assange.”

President Biden said last month he was considering a request from Australia to drop the case and let Assange return to his home country.

Officials provided no further details, but Stella Assange said it was “a good sign” and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the comment was encouraging.