Julian Assange wins temporary reprieve from extradition to US

27 March 2024 - 08:14 By Michael Holden, Sam Tobin and Kanishka Singh
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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition to the United States from Britain was put on hold on Tuesday after London's High Court said the United States must provide assurances he would not face the death penalty.

US prosecutors are seeking to put Assange, 52, on trial on 18 counts, all bar one under the Espionage Act, over WikiLeaks' release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.

After Britain gave the go-ahead for his extradition last year, Assange's lawyers in February launched a final attempt in the English courts to challenge that decision.

In their written ruling, which Assange's wife Stella described as "utterly bizarre", two senior judges provisionally gave him permission to launch a full appeal against extradition on three grounds, but only if the US failed to provide "satisfactory assurances" to the issues raised.

These were that Australian-born Assange arguably would not be entitled to rely on the First Amendment right to free speech as a non-US national and, while none of the existing charges carried the death penalty, he could later face a capital offence such as treason, meaning it would be unlawful to extradite him.

Assange's lawyers had highlighted a comment by former US President Donald Trump who said in 2010, when discussing WikiLeaks, that "I think there should be like a death penalty or something", the ruling said.

The judges invited the US authorities to provide assurances on these matters, saying if they were not forthcoming by April 16, then Assange would be granted permission to appeal.

However, they rejected his lawyers' argument the case was politically motivated or that he would not receive a fair trial. They also said his accusation that CIA officials had planned to kidnap or murder him could not be considered should he be allowed an appeal.

A further hearing has been scheduled for May 20, with his extradition - which his campaign team said could have been imminent depending on the ruling - put on hold.


WikiLeaks first came to prominence in 2010 when it published a US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

It then released thousands of secret classified files and diplomatic cables that laid bare often highly critical US appraisals of world leaders which the US said imperilled the lives of their agents.

Assange's many supporters hail him as an anti-establishment hero who is being persecuted, despite being a journalist, for exposing US wrongdoing and alleged war crimes.

The US authorities say he is not being prosecuted for the publication of the leaked materials but for the criminal act of conspiring with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to unlawfully obtain them.

Assange has now spent more than 13 years battling various legal cases in Britain, spending seven of these holed up inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London after skipping bail and the last five in a maximum security jail.

His brother, Gabriel Shipton, said he was suffering "rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health".

"I'm astounded by the decision. The case should have been thrown out," Stella Assange, who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison, told Reuters. "Julian remains at risk of extradition, at risk of the death penalty, at risk of 175 years in prison."

While Assange's lawyer Jen Robinson said, on the basis of previous cases, US assurances "aren't worth the paper they're written on", Nick Vamos, the former head of extradition at Britain's Crown Prosecution Service said it should be straightforward for the US to provide the guarantees.

"I think the US government will have little difficulty in providing these assurances and Mr Assange’s extradition will finally be ordered," he said.

If the High Court does uphold the extradition decision, Assange's final challenge will rest with an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to block it.


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