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Julian Assange Granted Permission to Challenge US Extradition

Embattled WikiLeaks founder lives day to day, week to week, decision to decision.

by | May 22, 2024 | Articles, Good Reads, Law, Opinion

A UK court ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 52, can appeal his extradition to the United States, which wants Assange charged with espionage for publishing tens of thousands of classified documents and diplomatic cables in 2010 and 2011. Stella Assange, his wife, proposed a question that may be on the minds of many: “How long can this go on for?”

Assange Achieves Legal Victory

In March, judges Jeremy Johnson and Victoria Sharp deferred a decision on whether Assange and his legal team could file for another appeal. At London’s High Court on May 20, Assange’s attorneys presented a pivotal argument: They should not agree to assurances by US prosecutors that he could depend on the protections and rights under the First Amendment. Assange’s attorneys say that if he is extradited, then he could be discriminated against because he is an Australian-born foreign national.

“We say this is a blatantly inadequate assurance,” Edward Fitzgerald, Assange’s lawyer, told the court.

The judges’ decision was delivered quickly. They ruled that US authorities’ submissions were insufficient and agreed that there was a legitimate concern that he could face discrimination unless the United States provided “satisfactory” assurances.

As a result of this ruling, Assange could file a full appeal relating to the legal components of free speech and nationality. The news elicited cheers and jubilation outside the courthouse, with dozens of supporters chanting, “Drop the case” and Let him go, Joe.” The defendant was not present due to health issues.

Assange’s wife told reporters this was “a turning point” for his case. “Everyone can see what is going on here: the US case is offensive; it offends our democratic principles,” she said. “It offends our right to know it is an attack on journalists everywhere. We are relieved as a family that the courts took the right decision today. But how long can this go on for?”

James Lewis KC (King’s Counsel), representing the United States, urged the judges to “not be beguiled by the attractive and simplistic approach” of Assange’s barristers. He added the charges laid against him were not protected under the First Amendment, writing in filing to the High Court:

“The position of the US prosecutor is that no one, neither US citizens nor foreign citizens, [is] entitled to rely on the first amendment in relation to publication of illegally obtained national defence information giving the names of innocent sources to their grave and imminent risk of harm.

 

“This principle applies equally to US citizens and non-US citizens irrespective of their nationality, or place of birth, and irrespective of where the conduct took place, though it is ultimately a question of law for the US courts. The conduct in question is simply unprotected by the First Amendment.”

A date for the next hearing has not been announced. Additionally, Fitzgerald accepted a different assurance from Washington that Assange would not face the death penalty, asserting that the United States offered an “unambiguous promise not to charge any capital offense.” If convicted, he could face life in prison.

The Julian Assange Case: A Primer

Following a seven-year stay at London’s Ecuadorian Embassy, Assange was arrested in 2019 and has been detained at a UK prison. He faces 18 criminal counts in the United States under the Espionage Act after WikiLeaks published damning documents relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that prosecutors say endangered US lives. After all these years, could the case be dropped? In February, Australian lawmakers approved a motion requesting Assange to be allowed to return to his native land. Last month, President Joe Biden revealed that he was thinking about Australia’s proposal for the United States to drop its case against Assange.

Whatever happens, Stella Assange and her husband’s supporters have vowed to continue fighting for his liberty. She said, “We live from day to day, from week to week, from decision to decision. This is a way that we’ve been living for years and years.”

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