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The court in London will rule on the extradition of Julian Assange

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LONDON – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could find out Monday whether he has been granted a reprieve in his latest legal battle to avoid extradition from Britain to the United States.

The 52-year-old Australian is seeking permission to appeal a ruling that could see him sent to face a US trial on spying charges, following a long-running court case.

Two London High Court judges hearing Assange’s request adjourned the case in March, asking US government lawyers to provide “satisfactory assurances” on the protection of freedom of expression and that he would not face the death penalty if convicted.

These comments were presented at a hearing on Monday, where Assange was not present. Immediately afterwards the judges were able to give their ruling.

In written submissions to the hearing, Edward Fitzgerald, who represented Assange, accepted as “unequivocal” assurances from the US government that he would not face the death penalty.

But he questioned whether his client could rely on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which includes freedom of speech and the press, during the trial.

James Lewis, representing the US government, told the court that Assange’s conduct was “simply unprotected” by the First Amendment.

It does not apply to anyone “in relation to the publication of illegally obtained national defense information that mentions the names of innocent sources because of their serious and imminent risk of harm,” he stated.

If successful, Assange could return to the domestic British courts.

If he loses, he could be quickly extradited after a five-year legal battle pitting Washington and London against free speech activists.

Assange’s only hope would then be to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which could order a stay of extradition if it decides there are “exceptional circumstances”.

It would also require London to accept the order.

But this is uncertain due to a separate dispute with the European court, which blocked the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Dozens of Assange supporters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London early Monday, many wearing T-shirts with Assange’s face on them.

“This man’s life is at stake,” 83-year-old sculptor Jenny West told AFP. “He represents all other journalists, it is an urgent humanitarian situation,” she added.

‘Corrupt’

Assange has been held in the high-security Belmarsh prison in London since April 2019.

He was arrested after holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London for seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced sexual assault charges that were eventually dropped.

US authorities want to try Assange for making public US military secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He is accused of publishing approximately 700,000 confidential documents related to US military and diplomatic activities beginning in 2010.

The United States has charged Assange with the 1917 Espionage Act, which his supporters say could lead to a prison sentence of 175 years.

British courts approved the extradition request after the United States promised that Assange would not go to the most extreme prison, ‘ADX Florence’, nor subject him to the harsh regime known as ‘Special Administrative Measures’.

His supporters have criticized the legal proceedings he has faced.

“It is of course very clear that the court proceedings in Britain are corrupt. The case has been rigged against Julian,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, told reporters on Wednesday.

Assange’s supporters say his health is fragile and the Council of Europe this week expressed concern about his treatment.

The United States charged Assange several times between 2018 and 2020, but President Joe Biden has faced domestic and international pressure to drop the case brought under his predecessor Donald Trump.

Biden recently indicated that the United States is considering an Australian request to drop the charges.