WikiLeaks founder Assange wins right to appeal against extradition order to US

    WORLD  20 May 2024 - 19:59

    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can appeal against extradition to the United States on espionage charges, a London court ruled Monday — a decision likely to further drag out an already long legal saga.

    High Court judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson ruled for Assange after his lawyers argued that the US government provided “blatantly inadequate” assurances that he would have the same free speech protections as an American citizen if extradited from Britain, according to ABC News.

    Assange, 52, has been indicted on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified US documents almost 15 years ago.

    Hundreds of supporters cheered and applauded outside court as news of the ruling reached them from inside the Royal Courts of Justice.

    Assange’s wife, Stella, said the US had tried to put “lipstick on a pig — but the judges did not buy it.” She said the US should “read the situation” and drop the case.

    “As a family we are relieved but how long can this go on?" she said. “This case is shameful and it is taking an enormous toll on Julian."

    The Australian computer expert has spent the last five years in a British high-security prison after taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for seven years. Assange was not in court to hear the ruling because of health reasons, his lawyer said.

    American prosecutors allege that Assange encouraged and helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published.

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

    The US government says Assange’s actions went way beyond those of a journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempt to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified government documents.

    The brief ruling from the bench followed arguments over Assange’s claim that by releasing the trove of confidential documents he was essentially a publisher and due the free press protections guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

    The hearing was a follow-up to a provisional ruling in March that said he could take his case to the Court of Appeal unless the US guaranteed he would not face the death penalty if extradited and would have the same free speech protections as a US citizen.

    The US provided those assurances but Assange’s lawyers only accepted that he would not face the prospect of capital punishment.

    They said the assurance that Assange could “raise and seek to rely upon” the First Amendment fell short of the protections he deserved. Further, they argued that the prosecutor refused to say he would not challenge Assange’s right to use such a defense.

    “The real issue is whether an adequate assurance has been provided to remove the real risk identified by the court,” Fitzgerald said. “It is submitted that no adequate assurance has been made.”

    The court previously said that without the right to a First Amendment defense, Assange's extradition could be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, which also provides free speech and media protections.

    Attorney James Lewis, representing the US, said Assange’s conduct was “simply unprotected” by the First Amendment.

    “No one, neither US citizens nor foreign citizens, are entitled to rely on the First Amendment in relation to publication of illegally obtained national defense information giving the names of innocent sources, to their grave and imminent risk of harm,” Lewis said.

    Assange's lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said any sentence would likely be much shorter.

    Caliber.Az

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