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Julian Assange granted permission to appeal US extradition

Michael Holden and Sam Tobin
Reuters
3 Min Read
Supporters chanted "Free, free Julian Assange" as they protested outside London's High Court.
Supporters chanted "Free, free Julian Assange" as they protested outside London's High Court. Credit: AP

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s battle to avoid extradition to the United States has received a huge boost. London’s High Court ruled that US assurances over his case are unsatisfactory, and he will get a full appeal hearing.

In March, the High Court provisionally gave Assange, 52, permission to appeal on three grounds, but it gave the US the opportunity to provide satisfactory assurances that it would not seek the death penalty and would allow him to seek to rely on a constitutional right to free speech in a trial for spying.

In a short ruling on Monday, two senior judges said the US submissions were not sufficient and would allow the appeal to proceed.

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Hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the court before what could have been the culmination of 13 years of legal battles.

Before the hearing, Assange’s legal team warned he could be on a plane across the Atlantic within 24 hours of the decision but that he could also be released from jail or find himself yet again bogged down in months of legal manoeuvring.

His lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, told the judges they should not accept US prosecutors’ assurance that Assange could seek to rely upon the rights and protections granted under the First Amendment because a US court would not be bound by this.

“We say this is a blatantly inadequate assurance,” he told the court.

Fitzgerald accepted a separate assurance the Australian-born Assange would not face the death penalty, saying the US had provided an “unambiguous promise not to charge any capital offence”.

The US had argued its First Amendment assurances were sufficient.

James Lewis, representing the US authorities, said in court documents the assurance “cannot bind the courts”, but the US courts would “take solemn notice and give effect so far as they are able to a promise given by the executive”.

Protesters gathered outside the court, tying yellow ribbons to the iron railings, holding placards and chanting “Free, free Julian Assange”.

In a plea to US President Joe Biden, flags read “#Let him go, Joe”.

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 Assange on trial on 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.

Human rights groups, media bodies, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and other political leaders have called for the case to be dropped.

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, since 2019, held in the Belmarsh top-security jail, latterly while awaiting a ruling on his extradition.

Before Monday’s ruling, Stella Assange, who married him in Belmarsh in 2022, said that, whatever the outcome, she would continue to fight for his liberty.

with PA

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