Julian Assange Extradition On Hold Until U.S. Gives More Assurances

The High Court in London ruled on Tuesday that Julian Assange, the embattled WikiLeaks founder, cannot be immediately extradited to the United States, saying American authorities must offer assurances about his treatment first, including over his First Amendment rights and protection from the death penalty.

The decision had been highly anticipated as the moment the court would decide if Mr. Assange had exhausted his challenges within British courts. Instead, in a nuanced ruling, two judges determined that clarity on his fate would again be on hold.

The two High Court judges said that the court “will grant leave to appeal” on narrow grounds, “unless a satisfactory assurance is provided by the Government of the United States of America.”

The court has given the United States three weeks “to give satisfactory assurances” that Mr. Assange “is permitted to rely on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (which protects free speech), that he is not prejudiced at trial (including sentence) by reason of his nationality, that he is afforded the same First Amendment protections as a United States citizen and that the death penalty is not imposed.”

If those assurances are not given by April 16, then Mr. Assange will be granted a full appeal hearing. If the United States does provide the requested assurances, there will be a further hearing on May 20 to decide if they “are satisfactory, and to make a final decision on leave to appeal.”

While the United States has already provided some assurances over the treatment of Mr. Assange if he was extradited, the High Court judges asked for additional guarantees.

The United States has sought the extradition of Mr. Assange since 2019, and the British government approved an extradition order in 2022, but he has fought his removal through the courts while detained in a high-security prison in southeast London.

Mr. Assange, 52, is accused of violating the U.S. Espionage Act with WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of tens of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, an Army intelligence analyst.

Speaking outside the London court on Tuesday, Stella Assange, Mr. Assange’s wife, urged the U.S. government to drop the charges against her husband.

“The Biden administration should not offer assurances. They should drop this shameful case that should never have been brought,” she told reporters gathered outside the court. “Julian should never have been in prison for a single day. This is a shame on every democracy. Julian is a political prisoner.”

As Mr. Assange’s case has unfolded over the years, it has become highly charged politically, raising First Amendment issues and alarming advocates of media freedom. The United States, Britain, where his extradition case is being heard, and Australia — where Mr. Assange is a citizen — are all involved, and in recent months there have been calls for some political resolution to see the charges reduced or dismissed.

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said that Tuesday’s ruling “presents the U.S. government with another opportunity to do what it should have done long ago — drop the Espionage Act charges.”

“Prosecuting Assange for the publication of classified information would have profound implications for press freedom,” Mr. Jaffer said in a statement, “Because publishing classified information is what journalists and news organizations often need to do in order to expose wrongdoing by government.”

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

Mr. Assange moved to Britain in late 2010 from Sweden. The Swedish police issued an international arrest warrant for him later that year over sexual assault accusations.

In June 2012, he was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London — where he stayed for the next seven years.

Sweden dropped its case against Mr. Assange. He was thrown out of the embassy in 2019, and shortly after, the United States announced an indictment against him, charging him with 18 counts of violating the Espionage Act by participating in a criminal hacking conspiracy and by encouraging hackers to steal secret material.

He was promptly arrested, and has been seeking to halt his removal to the United States through British courts ever since.

In 2021, a British judge denied the extradition request for Mr. Assange, ruling that he was at risk of suicide if sent to an American prison. But the High Court later reversed that decision based on assurances from the Biden administration that he would not be held in the United States’ highest-security facility and that, if convicted, he could serve his sentence in Australia.

By 2022, Priti Patel, who as Britain’s home secretary was responsible for the country’s borders and security, had approved the extradition request — and Mr. Assange’s legal team fought that as well.

When a lower-court judge denied their request that he be allowed to appeal, they asked the High Court to overturn that move.

Mr. Assange’s lawyers say that he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, although lawyers for the United States government have said that he was more likely to be sentenced to four to six years.

During a two-day hearing in the High Court in February, Mr. Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald told the judges, Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson, that his client had been “exposing serious criminality” by publishing the leaked documents, and laid out nine grounds on which Mr. Assange hoped to appeal the extradition order.

In their ruling on Tuesday, the judges dismissed six of the nine grounds for appeal as unfounded.

But they said that Mr. Assange had a “real prospect of success” on three of the issues raised, including on the threat to his freedom of expression in the United States; that his trial might be prejudiced because as an Australian he might not be given the same rights as American citizens; and that there was nothing to prevent the death penalty from being imposed, which would violate British extradition policies.

The court decided that “unless satisfactory assurances are provided, the court will grant leave to appeal on those grounds.”

Mr. Assange did not appear in the courtroom, despite having been granted rare permission to do so for the first time since 2021. His lawyers told the court that he was not well enough to attend or even to attend via video link from prison.

At a news briefing in February, Ms. Assange had said that her husband’s legal team would “definitely and immediately file an application” with the European Court of Human Rights if blocked from further appeals in Britain, and that he would ask for an “injunction to stop the U.K. from extraditing him.”

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