WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange wins bid to challenge extradition to US

Julian Assange
Julian Assange

London | Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Monday won a major reprieve as a London court permitted him to appeal against his extradition to the US on espionage charges, a legal saga which has been going on for over a decade.

The 52-year-old Australian national has been held at Belmarsh high-security prison in London since 2019 when he was taken into custody from the Ecuadorian Embassy here where he had sought asylum.

While the US authorities want Assange to face trial for allegedly endangering lives by publishing thousands of classified documents on Wikileaks, his lawyers have argued that the case against him is politically motivated.

On Monday, two High Court judges at the Royal Courts of Justice granted the Australian-born Assange permission to appeal against his extradition order.

They agreed with his legal team on the issue of assurances from the US administration that Assange would be protected by and allowed to rely on the First Amendment of the country’s Constitution, which protects freedom of speech in the US, and the death penalty would not be imposed.

"Based on the principle of the separation of powers, the US court can and will apply US law, whatever the executive may say or do," barrister Edward Fitzgerald told the court on behalf of Assange.

The barrister representing the US government countered that the judicial branch of the country would take due notice of the executive’s "solemn assurance".

"The assurance does make it clear that he will not be discriminated against because of his nationality. He can and will be able to raise all those arguments and his nationality will not prejudice a fair trial," said James Lewis in written submissions.

The High Court ruling in favour of Assange means he will be able to challenge US assurances at a full hearing over how his prospective trial in America would be conducted and whether his right to free speech would be infringed on being extradited.

His appeal is expected to be heard sometime next year as he continues his fight against being extradited after the UK government had signed off on the order in June 2022.

Assange has denied any wrongdoing all along and argued that his disclosures in 2010 revealed war crimes by the US. Supporters of Assange, led by his wife Stella Assange, gathered at the High Court and continued their calls for his release on medical grounds.

Had the court ruled in the US's favour, Assange would have exhausted all legal avenues in the UK.

He has resisted extradition from the UK for more than a decade after his Wikileaks website published thousands of confidential US documents in 2010 and 2011.

The US Department of Justice described the leaks as "one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States".

The files suggested the US military had killed civilians in unreported incidents during the war in Afghanistan.

According to US authorities, Assange endangered lives by failing to redact the names of intelligence operatives in the documents. However, his lawyers have argued that the case is a politically motivated form of "state retaliation".

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