Julian Assange granted right to appeal extradition in U.K. court, prolonging legal battle over espionage charges

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Julian Assange

20th May 2024 – (London) London’s High Court granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange the right to appeal against his extradition to the United States, where he faces espionage charges. This decision prolongs an already extensive legal battle that has captured global attention.

High Court Justices Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson concluded that Assange presents valid grounds to contest the U.K. government’s decision to extradite him. Assange is accused of 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse, stemming from his website’s dissemination of a significant volume of classified U.S. documents nearly 15 years ago.

Assange, an Australian national, has spent the last five years in a high-security British prison following a seven-year asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition.

During Monday’s proceedings, Assange’s legal team argued that the assurances provided by the U.S. regarding his treatment and press freedoms were “blatantly inadequate.” Edward Fitzgerald, Assange’s lawyer, emphasised the lack of guarantees that Assange would be afforded the protections typically available under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The case hinges on whether the U.S. assurances sufficiently mitigate the risks previously identified by the court, with Fitzgerald asserting that they do not. The hearing could potentially lead to Assange being extradited or offer him another opportunity to appeal.

The U.S. asserts that Assange’s activities extend far beyond journalistic endeavours, accusing him of actively encouraging and assisting former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in the theft and indiscriminate publication of sensitive government documents.

Assange’s defence counters that he was acting as a journalist exposing wrongdoing by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. They argue that extraditing him would subject him to a politically motivated trial and a clear miscarriage of justice.

The U.S. government maintains that Assange’s actions are not protected by the First Amendment, with prosecutor James Lewis stating that the publication of illegally obtained national defence information that endangers lives is unprotected.

Assange, who was not present in court due to health reasons according to Fitzgerald, has garnered significant public support. Outside the Royal Courts of Justice, a large group of his advocates rallied, brandishing banners and chanting slogans in his defence.