Julian Assange of WikiLeaks awaits US extradition ruling

25 days ago
Julian Assange of WikiLeaks awaits US extradition ruling

After more than a decade of legal battles and detentions, a British court is expected to announce a final decision on Monday regarding the extradition of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange to the United States for the mass leak of secret US documents.

A decision is pending from two High Court judges in London on whether they find US assurances convincing that Julian Assange, 52, would be protected from the death penalty and granted the First Amendment right to free speech in a potential US trial for spying.

According to Assange’s legal team, there are various possible outcomes following the decision: he may swiftly board a plane across the Atlantic within 24 hours, be released from jail, or find himself once more entangled in lengthy legal proceedings.

“I have the sense that anything could happen at this stage,” his wife Stella said last week. “Julian could be extradited, or he could be freed.”

She said her husband hoped to be in court for the crucial hearing.

WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – the largest security breaches of their kind in US military history – along with swathes of diplomatic cables.

In April 2010 it published a classified video showing a 2007 US helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff.

The US authorities want to put the Australian-born Assange on trial over 18 charges, nearly all under the Espionage Act, saying his actions with WikiLeaks were reckless, damaged national security, and endangered the lives of agents.

His many global supporters call the prosecution a travesty, an assault on journalism and free speech, and revenge for causing embarrassment. Calls for the case to be dropped have ranged from human rights groups and some media bodies, to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and other political leaders.

Detained since 2010

Assange was first arrested in Britain in 2010 on a Swedish warrant over sex crime allegations that were later dropped. Since then he has been variously under house arrest, holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London for seven years, and held since 2019 in Belmarsh top security jail, latterly while he waited a ruling on his extradition.

“Every day since the seventh of December 2010 he has been in one form of detention or another,” said Stella Assange, who was originally part of his legal team and married him in Belmarsh in 2022.

If the High Court rules the extradition can go ahead, Assange’s legal avenues in Britain are exhausted, and his lawyers will immediately turn to the European Court of Human Rights to seek an emergency injunction blocking deportation pending a full hearing by that court into his case at a later date.

On the other hand, if the judges reject the US submissions, then he will have permission to appeal his extradition case on three grounds, and that might not be heard until next year.

It is also possible the judges could decide that Monday’s hearing should consider not just whether he can appeal but also the substance of that appeal. If they find in his favour in those circumstances, he could be released.

Stella Assange said that whatever the outcome she would continue to fight for his liberty. If he is freed she plans to follow him to Australia or wherever he was safe. If he is extradited, she said all the psychiatric evidence presented at court had concluded he was at very serious risk of suicide.

“We live from day to day, from week to week, from decision to decision. This is a way that we’ve been living for years and years,” she told Reuters.

“This is just not a way to live – it’s so cruel. And I can’t prepare for his extradition – how could I? But if he’s extradited, then I’ll do whatever I can, and our family is going to fight for him until he’s free.”