Julian Assange begins last-ditch battle to stop extradition to US

"Julian needs his freedom and we all need the truth," Julian Assange's wife Stella told protesters in London on Tuesday.

"Julian needs his freedom and we all need the truth," Julian Assange's wife Stella told protesters in London on Tuesday. Photo: AP

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was “too ill” to attend what could be his last chance to stop his extradition from Britain to the United States after more than 13 years battling the authorities in the English courts.

Supporters raised concerns that Assange, 52, was unable to appear in London’s High Court — even via video link — after his wife, Stella, earlier in the week said his health was in physical and mental decline.

The US is seeking to prosecute Assange on 18 counts relating to WikiLeaks’ high-profile release of vast troves of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.

They argue the leaks imperilled the lives of their agents and there is no excuse for his criminality.

Assange’s supporters hail him as an anti-establishment hero and a journalist, who is being persecuted for exposing US wrongdoing.

Outside the High Court in London, a large, noisy crowd gathered, chanting “Only one decision, no extradition”.

“We have two big days ahead. We don’t know what to expect, but you are here because the world is watching,” Assange’s wife Stella told the crowd.

“They have to know they can’t get away with this. Julian needs his freedom and we all need the truth.”

She likened his case to that of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition activist who died in prison on Friday while serving a three-decade sentence.

“Julian is a political prisoner and his life is at risk. What happened to Navalny can happen to Julian,” she said.

‘Breathtaking’ murder plot

His colleague Mark Summers said there was evidence there had been a “truly breathtaking plan” to kidnap or murder Assange while he was in the Ecuador’s embassy, and former US president Donald Trump had asked for “detailed options” to kill him.

In 2021, Yahoo News reported CIA officials had drawn up options for Trump’s administration for dealing with Assange while he was in the London embassy.

“Senior CIA officials requested plans, the president himself requested on being provided with options on how to do it and sketches were even drawn up,” the lawyer said on Tuesday.

In their written submissions, lawyers for the US government said their case against him was “consistently and repeatedly misrepresented” by Assange’s legal team.

They said he was not being prosecuted for publication of the leaked materials but for aiding and conspiring with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to unlawfully obtain them, then disclosing names of sources and “putting those individuals at grave risk of harm”.

History of the case

Assange’s legal battles began in 2010, and he subsequently spent seven years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London before he was dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions.

He has been held in a maximum-security jail in southeast London ever since, even getting married there.

Britain finally approved his extradition to the US in 2022 after a judge initially blocked it because concerns about his mental health meant he would be at risk of suicide if deported.

His legal team is trying to overturn that approval at a two-day hearing in front of two judges in what could be his last chance to stop his extradition in the English courts.

His lawyer Edward Fitzgerald told the court Assange was being targeted for political offences as he was charged under the US Espionage Act in breach of the extradition treaty, and the case interfered with his freedom of speech.

“Mr Assange is being prosecuted for engaging in ordinary journalistic practices of obtaining and publishing classified information which is true and of public interest,” Fitzgerald said.

It had caused “legitimate concern to journalists throughout the world”, said the lawyer, who added Assange himself was not in court nor watching remotely because he was unwell.

Fitzgerald said if convicted Assange could be given a sentence as long as 175 years, but likely to be at least 30 to 40 years, and said there had been no consideration of an alleged CIA plot to kidnap and poison Assange while he was in Ecuador’s embassy.

Assange’s supporters include Amnesty International, media groups and politicians in his country of birth Australia, including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who last week voted in favour of a motion calling for his return to Australia

If Assange wins this case, a full appeal hearing will be held to again consider his challenge.

If he loses, his only remaining option would be at the European Court of Human Rights and Stella Assange said his lawyers would apply to the European judges for an emergency injunction if necessary.


Speaking last week, Stella Assange said the decision was a matter of life and death and his lawyers would apply to the ECHR for an emergency injunction if necessary.

“His health is in decline, physically and mentally,” she said. “His life is at risk every single day he stays in prison – and if he is extradited he will die.”

Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton compared the WikiLeaks founder with Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition activist who died in prison on Friday while serving a three-decade sentence.

WikiLeaks first came to prominence in 2010 when it published a US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

It then released thousands of secret classified files and diplomatic cables that laid bare often highly critical US appraisals of world leaders from Russian President Vladimir Putin to members of the Saudi royal family.

-with AAP

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