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20 Feb, 2024 15:56

Assange ‘too ill’ to attend last chance UK appeal against US extradition

Washington wants the WikiLeaks publisher on its soil where he could face a prison sentence of up to 175 years
Assange ‘too ill’ to attend last chance UK appeal against US extradition

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is “too ill” to attend his appeal against the UK's decision to extradite him to the US, his lawyers have said. The US wants him on 17 charges of espionage tied to WikiLeaks’ publication of State Department and Pentagon files in 2010.

Assange, 52, has been held largely in solitary confinement in the Belmarsh maximum security prison in England since 2019, when Ecuador revoked his asylum at American insistence. The Australian-born publisher had requested to appear in court personally, but was unable to do so due to poor health, according to his lawyers. 

“The world is watching,” Assange’s wife Stella said outside the court house. She accused the US of abusing the legal system to “hound, prosecute and intimidate” and argued that the US “plotted to murder” her husband – referring to revelations that the CIA sought to kill Assange in 2017, when he sheltered in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

“What’s at stake is the ability to publish the truth and expose crimes when they’re committed by states,” Stella Assange told the dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday.

Protesters carried Australian flags and signs that said “Free Julian Assange” and “drop the charges.” The Australian parliament passed a motion, supported by the country's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, calling for Assange's release from British captivity in the run up to the appeal.

“The outrageous part of the UK’s years-long ‘trial’ to condemn Julian Assange to die in an American dungeon is that the victim of his ‘crime’ (journalism) is a state rather than a person–the definition of a political offense, which the US-UK extradition treaty explicitly forbid,” NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said on X (formerly Twitter). 

Activists outside the court chanted “US, UK, hands off Assange” and “There is only one decision – no extradition,” among other slogans.

This week’s hearing will decide whether Assange will be allowed to appeal the 2022 decision by the UK government to extradite him to the US. His attorneys have argued that the extradition would amount to punishment for political opinions and violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

If the appeal fails, Assange will apply to the European Court of Human Rights and seek a Rule 39 order to stop the extradition while it considers the case, Stella Assange has said.

In 2010, WikiLeaks published the US military’s Iraq and Afghanistan “war diaries,” as well as a trove of State Department cables. One of the videos, later known as “collateral murder,” showed a US helicopter killing 11 people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists. Suspecting the Swedish “sexual assault” case was a pretext for the US to arrest him – correctly, as it later emerged – Assange sought asylum in Ecuador, which has no extradition treaty with Washington. He spent the next seven years in the country’s embassy in London, blocked from leaving by the British authorities. 

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