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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Assange gets chance to appeal US extradition to British Supreme Court

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been given the possibility to appeal his extradition order to the United States at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

(CN) — Julian Assange, the infamous founder of WikiLeaks, was given a new chance on Monday to fight an extradition order to stand trial on espionage charges in the United States.

The High Court in London said it gave permission to Assange to challenge its decision in December allowing his extradition to proceed so he can be put on trial for helping expose alleged war crimes by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A two-judge panel of the High Court overturned a lower court judge's decision that blocked Assange from being sent to the U.S. because she was concerned he'd be at risk of committing suicide if he was placed in solitary confinement upon his arrival.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom must agree to accept the case before it can move forward. It typically takes about eight sitting weeks after an application is submitted to decide whether to accept an appeal, the court says on its website.

Revered by many free-speech advocates, human rights activists and journalists, Assange's extradition has become a major showdown over human rights, free speech and the protection of journalism in the internet age.

“Make no mistake, we won today in court,” Assange's fiancee, Stella Moris, said outside the courthouse. “We will fight this until Julian is free.”

Assange has been in Belmarsh Prison in London since he was pulled out of the Ecuadorian Embassy by British police and arrested on a 2012 warrant after the Ecuadorean government canceled the citizenship and asylum it had granted him seven years before.

The U.S. accuses Assange of acting like a dangerous foreign spy seeking to damage the country. WikiLeaks has come under fire for releasing information that has potentially put U.S. military personnel at danger. Assange also faces accusations that he has ties to Russia.

The Trump administration was particularly eager to go after Assange and it filed charges against him. He faces 18 counts of soliciting, gathering and publishing classified documents as well as computer hacking related to the release of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and military reports by Chelsea Manning. If convicted, he could face up to 175 years in jail.

In ordering his extradition, the High Court put stock in a promise that the 50-year-old cyber activist will not endure harsh U.S. prison conditions.

A year ago, District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser in London blocked extradition efforts after deciding Assange would be at risk of committing suicide if he was thrown into solitary confinement in the U.S.

Assange's mental health deteriorated significantly during his confinement at the Ecuadorean Embassy and its aftermath, when he was placed in the high-security Belmarsh Prison, according to doctors and his supporters.

After Baraitser blocked his extradition, the U.S. provided assurances that Assange would not be placed in the most severe prison conditions if is he handed over to U.S. custody and that, if convicted, he could serve his prison sentence in Australia, where he was born.

At appellate hearings before the High Court in October, Assange's defense team tried to discredit the U.S. assurances about treating him humanely. They relied on a recent Yahoo News report that cited numerous CIA agents who said the intelligence service discussed plans to kill or kidnap Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he had taken refuge in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges that were later dropped. At the time, Assange was also fearful of being handed over to U.S. authorities, who had begun a criminal investigation into his activities.

The revelations were the latest to shed light on the CIA's efforts to target Assange, who oversaw the publication of massive troves of leaked classified documents, the most sensational of which related to alleged war crimes by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan and deeply damaging revelations about U.S. international conduct in diplomatic cables.

The Yahoo News report added to revelations that the CIA allegedly paid a Spanish company providing security at the Ecuador Embassy to spy on Assange, according to Spanish investigators and news reports.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Criminal, Government, International

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