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Assange wins bid to appeal US extradition

LONDON: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday won a bid to appeal a British court ruling that approved his extradition to the United States to face charges for violating national security laws. Two judges at London’s High Court gave Assange permission to appeal after previously asking Washington to provide “satisfactory guarantees” on the protection of freedom of expression in any US trial.

Those submissions were presented at a hearing on Monday, which the 52-year-old Australian was not present. Assange is wanted by Washington for publishing hundreds of thousands of secret US documents from 2010 as head of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

Had he lost at Monday’s hearing, Assange – who has become a figurehead for free speech campaigners – could have been quickly extradited after a five-year legal battle. Instead, he will now face a new trial in his long-running legal saga after the British government approved his extradition in June 2022.

Assange’s wife Stella said outside court that the ruling “marks a turning point” and that “as a family we are relieved that the court has made the right decision. ‘Everyone can see what needs to be done here. Julian must be released,’ she added to it.

Human rights monitor Amnesty International called the ruling ‘rarely positive news for Julian Assange and all defenders of press freedom’. “The US’s continued attempt to prosecute Assange endangers media freedom worldwide. It makes a mockery of the US’s obligations under international law and its stated commitment to freedom of expression,” said Simon Crowther, legal adviser at Amnesty.

Cheers to Assange

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 covers freedom. of expression and freedom of 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 involves the names of innocent sources at their graves and imminent risk of harm,” he said.

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, and cheered as news of the decision filtered through. “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.

Case ‘rigged’

Assange has been held in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison 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 be subjected to the harsh regime known as ‘Special Administrative Measures’. His supporters have criticized the legal proceedings he has faced.

“It is of course abundantly clear that the court process in Britain is corrupt. The case has been rigged against Julian,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters on Wednesday. Assange’s supporters say his health is poor. vulnerable 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. —AFP