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26 Mar, 2024 10:41

Assange wins right to appeal extradition to US

The 52-year-old Australian has spent five years in a London prison following a long and dramatic period of asylum in the UK’s Ecuadorian embassy
Assange wins right to appeal extradition to US

The British High Court ruled on Tuesday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can mount a final UK challenge against extradition to the US to face trial for publishing secret diplomatic and military files. The publisher stands accused of espionage and is facing up to 175 years in jail.

The hearing at the High Court could have been the last opportunity for Assange’s defense team to seek recourse within the British legal system, if the judges had decided against his bid. His attorneys have argued that the American case against him is political in nature – retaliation for his exposure of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq – and that extraditing him to the US would put his life and well-being at risk.

Two British justices reviewing the situation decided that there was an arguable case against extradition and ruled that he should be granted a full appeal hearing again.

Assange has been held in the top-security Belmarsh prison since 2019, when Quito revoked his political asylum and allowed British police to arrest him at the Embassy of Ecuador in London. At the time, he was jumping bail in a separate extradition request, which the Australian citizen claimed to be a ploy by the US to get him into Swedish jurisdiction, where he claimed an attempt to extradite him to the US would have been easiest. A US court indicted Assange under the Espionage Act of 2017 a month after his arrest in the UK.

A British judge in January 2021 ruled against handing Assange over to the Americans, saying that he may take his own life due to harsh prison conditions in the US. Washington’s lawyers appealed the decision and offered assurances of good treatment, which Britain decided were sufficient for extradition. Then-Home Secretary Priti Patel authorized it in June 2022. Assange has since lost one appeal against the pending transfer.

Supporters of the jailed publisher say he is being persecuted by the US and its allies for revealing secrets that were embarrassing for Western countries.

“We have to be clear about who the criminals are. Just because they are using the justice system to imprison him, it doesn’t mean that justice or the law – international law – is on their side,” his wife Stella said on Monday.

Speaking after the ruling, she called the decision “astounding” and reiterated that her husband is a political prisoner. She expressed regret that the court did not take into account claims in the Western press that the CIA had considered kidnapping or assassinating Assange during the presidency of Donald Trump.

The US alleges that Assange has committed crimes in aiding and abetting whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who leaked classified US files to WikiLeaks in 2010. Officials claimed that the pro-transparency NGO endangered unspecified US assets through its publications. That narrative, however, was denied by a senior US counter-intelligence officer during Manning’s tribunal in 2013.

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