Assange legal lifeline to ensure no death penalty

Photo: AAP

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States from the United Kingdom has been put on hold after London’s High Court said the US must provide assurances he will not face the death penalty.

Two High Court judges said they would grant Assange a new appeal unless US authorities give further assurances within three weeks about what will happen to him.

The ruling means the legal saga, which has dragged on for more than a decade, will continue – and Assange will remain inside London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, where he has spent the last five years.

US prosecutors are seeking to put Assange, 52, on trial on 18 counts, all bar one under the Espionage Act, over WikiLeaks’ high-profile release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.

A large group of supporters of Julian Assange gathered at the Royal Courts of Justice for the Protest to Defend a Free Press Decision Day. Photo: AAP

In their ruling on Tuesday, two senior judges said he had a real prospect of successfully appealing against extradition on a number of grounds.

The court said in its written ruling that Assange arguably would not be entitled to rely on the first amendment right to free speech as a non-US citizen and that, while none of the existing charges carried the death penalty, he could later be charged with a capital offence such as treason, meaning it would be unlawful to extradite him.

His case was at least arguable, the ruling said, citing “the calls for the imposition of the death penalty by leading politicians and other public figures”.

If the US assurances were not forthcoming by April 16, then Assange would be granted permission to appeal, the judgment said.

“Today’s decision is astounding,” Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, said outside the court.

“The (US President Joe) Biden administration should not issue assurances, they should drop this shameful case that should never have been brought.”

Assange lawyer urges new Aus push

The Australian government needs to continue to pressure United States officials on the case of Julian Assange, one of his lawyers says.

“We want to see the Australian government continue to push for a political resolution because Julian will remain in Belmarsh Prison … and his circumstances there have been dire, his health continues to decline and this at the end of the day is a political case,” lawyer Greg Barnes SC told ABC TV after the decision in London.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said last month his government was using diplomatic channels to try to secure Assange’s release and had raised the issue with US President Joe Biden.

“There really does need to be continued political involvement because this may take some months,” Mr Barnes said.

“The way the appeal process has gone in the UK in his case has been lengthy delays … and so we would say to the prime minister and we would say to those MPs who support Julian Assange that this is not the time to take your foot off the pedal.”

Mr Barnes added that “people shouldn’t be extradited to the United States if there’s a risk of cruel and unusual punishment”.e

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said he welcomed the court being open to giving Assange permission to appeal against his extradition.

“Hopefully a new appeal will be successful. Even better, the US drops the charges against Mr Assange,” Mr Wilkie said.

“The US must not continue to pursue Mr Assange but instead drop all charges against him, allow him to reunite with his family and to return to Australia.”

Political motivation argument rejected

Although Assange’s legal team were successful on some grounds, the court rejected his bid for an appeal on the basis that the case was politically motivated or that he would not receive a fair trial.

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

The US says the WikiLeaks’ revelations imperilled the lives of their agents and there was no excuse for his criminality.

It has said Assange was charged for “indiscriminately and knowingly” publishing sources’ names and not his political opinions.

— AAP with AP

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