Julian Assange initiates final legal battle against extradition to the U.S. in U.K. High Court

Julian Assange

20th February 2024 – (London) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has commenced his last legal challenge in the United Kingdom (U.K.) on Tuesday, seeking to prevent his extradition to the United States on charges of espionage. The UK had previously approved his extradition in 2022 under former Home Secretary Priti Patel, although an initial block was imposed due to concerns about Assange’s mental health. Since then, Assange and his legal team have been appealing the decision.

The two-day hearing, scheduled to conclude on Wednesday, will be held at the UK High Court, presided over by judges Victoria Sharp and Justice Johnson. Assange’s final appeal against being sent to the United States will be heard during this time.

Assange, aged 52, is sought by the United States on charges of disclosing national defence information. This stems from WikiLeaks’ release of a large number of leaked military documents related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars a decade ago. Among the disclosed materials was a video footage showing a U.S. military Apache helicopter firing upon Reuters journalists and civilians, including children, on the streets of Baghdad in 2007.

Since 2019, Assange has been detained at Belmarsh Prison, a high-security facility in southeast London. U.S. lawyers have previously stated that if extradited, he would have the opportunity to serve any prison sentence in his home country, Australia.

Should the two judges at the U.K. High Court rule in Assange’s favour, a full appeal hearing will be arranged to further consider his challenge, potentially leading to a new decision regarding his extradition. Conversely, if he loses the case on Wednesday, Assange’s legal team has pledged to seek an emergency injunction from the European Court of Human Rights.

Assange’s poor health prevents his attendance at the hearing, as stated by his legal representatives. Last week, his wife Stella Assange expressed concerns about his declining physical and mental well-being.

Amidst hundreds of demonstrators outside the High Court, Aya Sycamore, a local resident, held a placard that read “FREE JULIAN ASSANGE.” She believes the case is politically motivated and asserts that Assange is innocent, deserving of freedom rather than imprisonment. Another local resident, Ela Ciecierska, remarked that it is unjust to detain an individual who sought to expose American atrocities, stating, “This is really wrong to keep an innocent man who only meant well for everybody to tell about the atrocities committed by the Americans.”

Edward George Green, who travelled from Birmingham to attend the hearing, expressed concern that Assange’s extradition would establish a worrisome precedent. He fears that individuals seeking to uncover the truth about war crimes may end up being imprisoned.