UK opens door for Assange’s extradition to US for espionage

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LONDON – A UK appeals court on Friday opened the door to Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States for espionage by overturning a lower court ruling that the WikiLeaks founder’s sanity was too fragile to withstand incarceration in America.

The High Court in London ruled that US assurances regarding Assange’s detention, received after the lower court’s ruling, were sufficient to ensure that he would be treated humanely. Lawyers for Assange say they will ask to appeal.

In the ruling, the High Court ordered the lower court judge to send the extradition request to Home Secretary Priti Patel, who would make the final decision whether or not to send Assange to the United States for trial. .

“There is no reason why this court should not accept assurances as meaning what they say,” a panel of two High Court judges said in its ruling.

Since WikiLeaks began publishing classified material over a decade ago, Assange has become both a critical and revered lightning rod.

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Some see him as a dangerous secret-giver who endangered the lives of informants and others who have aided the United States in war zones. Others say WikiLeaks made public official wrongdoing that governments wanted to keep secret.

Both views were debated as Assange sought to break free – and escape the Americans.

The US has asked UK authorities to extradite Assange so he can stand trial on 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse related to WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents.

Assange’s fiancee, Stella Moris, called Friday’s ruling a “serious miscarriage of justice” that threatens the rights of journalists around the world to do their jobs without fear of reprisal from governments that don’t like what they are. ‘they publish. She said lawyers for Assange would seek an appeal.

“We will fight,” Moris said in court, where supporters chanted and waved banners demanding Assange’s release. “Every generation has an epic battle to fight and it’s ours, as Julian represents the core tenets of what it means to live in a free society.”

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Assange, 50, is currently being held in Belmarsh High Security Prison in London. The High Court ordered his continued detention pending the outcome of the extradition case.

Assange has been in custody since his arrest in April 2019 for ignoring bail in a separate legal battle. Prior to that, he spent seven years locked up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Assange sought protection from the embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Sweden dropped sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because a lot of time had passed.

In January, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected Assange’s US extradition request, saying the Australian citizen was likely to commit suicide if held in harsh US prison conditions.

U.S. officials later assured Assange would not face the severely restrictive conditions that his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk.

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If convicted, Assange will not be jailed at the “supermax” penitentiary in Florence, Colo., The highest security prison in the United States, US officials have promised in court. They also promised that he would not be detained under “special administrative measures,” which may include separation from other prisoners and the loss of privileges such as visits, correspondence and use of the telephone.

They also said he would be eligible to serve any prison sentence in his native Australia.

US prosecutors have said Assange illegally aided US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in stealing diplomatic cables and classified military files that WikiLeaks later released, putting lives at risk.

Charges against Assange carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison, although US lawyers have told UK courts the longest sentence ever for such an offense was five years and three months.

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Lawyers for Assange argue that their client should not have been charged because he was acting as a journalist and is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees freedom of the press. The documents he published exposed the misdeeds of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, they say.

Barry J. Pollack, an attorney for Assange in the United States, called Friday’s decision “very disturbing,” citing unfounded allegations that the United States conspired to kidnap or kill his client.

“The UK court made this decision without questioning whether the extradition is appropriate as the United States lays charges against him that could result in decades in prison, based on the fact that he has reported truthful information about him. hot topics such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ”he said.

Human rights activists argue that the US government wants to quell its critics. While the UK High Court has not ruled on the merits of the charges, the extradition proceedings have opened a broader discussion of Assange’s case.

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Amnesty International’s Director for Europe, Nils Muižnieks, said the indictment “poses a serious threat to press freedom in the United States and abroad”.

“If confirmed, it would undermine the key role of journalists and editors in scrutinizing governments and exposing their wrongdoing – and leave journalists around the world looking over their shoulders,” Muižnieks said on Friday.

But so far the court has chosen to ignore all of these issues, said Nick Vamos, the former head of extradition at the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service. Now that the US assurances have been accepted, Assange would have to base his appeal on other issues he raised in the district court – all of which had been dismissed in the past.

“All the political heat is interesting for the media, but for the extradition tribunal they don’t seem to care,” Vamos told the BBC.

Vamos said if Assange was allowed to appeal, the case could go on for another six months. If the courts decide he has no way to appeal, it could be over as early as January.

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“We had a sentence when I was working in the CPS extradition team (…) that the extradition is not over until the wheels are mounted on the plane,” he said. he declares. “Anything can happen, even at the last second.”

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