UK High Court Adjourns Decision On Julian Assange U.S. Extradition Until May 20

The UK High Court in London has adjourned a decision on whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can mount a final appeal to fight his extradition from the UK to the U.S. until May 20.

U.S. Prosecutors want to try Assange on charges related to WikiLeaks’s release onto the internet in 2010 of more than half a million secret government, military and diplomatic documents and other pieces of content related to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Judges at the Royal Courts in London said they were seeking further assurances on Assange’s treatment in the U.S. from authorities there and would take a final decision on May 20.

They said they would give the U.S. government three weeks to provide assurances that Assange could rely on the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution, (which protects free speech); that he would not be prejudiced by reason of his Australian nationality, nor would he be sentenced to death if convicted.

If the U.S. government fails to deliver on these assurances, there would be a full hearing for Assange’s final appeal against his extradition.

Supporters of Assange had gathered outside the courthouse, chanting “Free, free Julian Assange” and holding up placards with his image.

WikiLeaks founder Assange, who is being held in the UK’s high-security Belmarsh prison in southeast London, has been battling his extradition to the U.S. since 2019.

U.S. prosecutors accuse Assange of conspiring with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and then release classified diplomatic cables and military files related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He denies the allegations.

Assange faces 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse under the U.S Espionage Act. His lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, while U.S. authorities say the sentence would be much shorter.

Journalism organizations worldwide say that the prosecution of Assange under the U.S. Espionage Act would be a serious blow to press freedom.

Australia-born Assange founded his internet-based whistle-blower site WikiLeaks in 2006. In 2010, it released more than half a million pieces of content related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, including classified U.S. military material, over a series of internet dumps.

Key revelations include a classified U.S. military video showing a 2007 attack by U.S. Apache helicopters in Baghdad, that killed a dozen civilians including two staffers from Reuters news agency.

Assange’s near 14-year legal battle began in August 2010 after Swedish prosecutors issued an arrest warrant against him following rape and sexual assault accusations.

He left Sweden for the UK shortly after. A London court ruled in 2011 he could be extradited back to  Sweden.

Assange continued to deny the allegations but said he did not want to travel to Sweden to testify for fear it would result in him being extradited to the U.S. more easily.

Assange claimed political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden.

He remained in the embassy until April 2019 when Ecuador withdrew his asylum status after Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno accused WikiLeaks of releasing images of his private family life onto the internet.

UK police immediately arrested Assange for breaching bail conditions related to the 2012 Swedish charges, as well as on behalf of the U.S. authorities.

A British judge ruled in January 2021 that Assange could not be extradited to the U.S. because he would likely kill himself if held in harsh U.S. prison conditions.

The High Court granted the U.S. government permission to appeal the ruling blocking Assange’s extradition in July 2021. The court then ruled in December 2021 that U.S. assurances about Assange’s detention were enough to guarantee he would be treated humanely.

In March 2022, the court refused Assange permission to appeal against his extradition and two months later the U.K. government ordered the extradition to the U.S.

The current appeal process is Assange’s last avenue in the UK courts to block his extradition to the U.S. If the High Court turns down his request on May 20, he could then turn to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in a bid to block the U.S. extradition order.

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