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Julian Assange can appeal his extradition to the United States, British court rules: NPR

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold banners and placards as they demonstrate in his support, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Britain’s High Court, in central London, May 20, 2024 .

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Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold banners and placards as they demonstrate in his support, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Britain’s High Court, in central London, May 20, 2024 .

Benjamin Crémel/AFP/Getty Images

A London court has ruled that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange can now appeal the British government’s decision to approve his extradition to the United States.

Monday’s ruling by two judges of the British High Court paves the way for a full appeal hearing into the extradition, during which Assange’s lawyers can argue that his rights under the First Amendment of the American Constitution could be limited by one’s nationality. Assange is an Australian citizen and is neither a citizen nor national of the United States.

The United States wants to charge him with 17 counts of espionage and one count of misuse of computers, for an alleged plot to possess and then publish national defense information.

Assange rose to global prominence in 2010 when Wikileaks, the organization he founded, released hundreds of thousands of classified documents focused on U.S. military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were leaked to the site by Chelsea Manning, then a military intelligence analyst.

In February, Assange’s lawyers submitted nine separate grounds for a possible appeal, but in March the two High Court judges, Victoria Sharp and Adam Johnson, responded to these requests by saying there was a ” real chance of success” on only three grounds. .

In their March judgment, they asked the US government to provide assurances that could avoid any appeal: notably by convincing the court that Assange would not face the death penalty; that he would be treated no differently from an American citizen; and that it would be protected by the right to free speech granted by the First Amendment.

In court on Monday, one of Assange’s lawyers questioned assurances since given by US prosecutors, pointing out that the separation of powers in the United States meant that the executive branch charged with indicting Assange would not be able to force the judiciary: in the form of a federal court in Virginia – to accept certain parameters of the trial.

A lawyer representing the US government in court had previously insisted that “the judiciary of the United States will give due consideration to this solemn assurance given by its government in international relations.” But this US federal court, said Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald, “can and will apply US law no matter what the executive branch says or does”.

A legal battle that has lasted for years

The ruling by one of Britain’s highest courts represents the latest twist in a years-long legal saga that has implicated Assange since a Swedish woman first accused him of rape in 2010. He was arrested for to be transferred to Sweden, but escaped bail in Britain, then holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy, ​​insisting that the accusations were false and a pretext for his subsequent transfer to the United States.

Swedish prosecutors eventually dropped the rape charges, but Assange was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy and placed in Belmarsh, a maximum security prison in southeast London, as the United States unveiled the charges brought against him.

The 52-year-old was not in court on Monday due to health reasons, but must now wait for his legal team to prepare the full appeal regarding his extradition.

That hearing could ultimately lead to his release if judges decide he would not have the same legal protections in a U.S. court as he would in the British legal system.

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold a banner with an image of Assange, as they demonstrate in his support, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Britain’s High Court, in central London, Monday.

Benjamin Crémel/AFP/Getty Images


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Benjamin Crémel/AFP/Getty Images


Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold a banner with an image of Assange, as they demonstrate in his support, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Britain’s High Court, in central London, Monday.

Benjamin Crémel/AFP/Getty Images

If the appeal fails, Assange has at least one additional option

But even if his appeal is ultimately rejected by the British courts, Assange’s lawyers say they will appeal to an even higher authority, the European Court of Human Rights. This court should then quickly intervene with an injunction to prevent Assange’s transfer to the United States.

Critics of the US government’s prosecution of Assange hailed Monday’s ruling as an important victory, but warned that US prosecution efforts continued to overshadow press freedom.

“A successful prosecution would criminalize much of the investigative journalism that is crucial to our democracy,” Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said in a statement. “The Justice Department should never have charged Assange under the Espionage Act, and it should drop the charges now.”

Dozens of Assange supporters attended the hearing in central London outside the Royal Courts of Justice, chanting and using bullhorns to attack British and American authorities.

Stella Assange, the wife of Julian Assange, makes a statement outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, after he won a bid at the High Court to appeal his extradition to the United States.

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Stella Assange, the wife of Julian Assange, makes a statement outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, after he won a bid at the High Court to appeal his extradition to the United States.

Lucy North/PA Images/Getty Images

His wife Stella – who originally met him while working on her legal team – had said in a recent Reuters interview that she feared he might have been put on a plane to the United States. United from this week, where he could theoretically face. to 175 years in prison.

The U.S. government has repeatedly claimed his actions were reckless and dangerous and filed charges against him under the Espionage Act.

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