England | Julian Assange wins new appeal against his extradition to the United States

(London) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can appeal an extradition order to the United States on espionage charges, a London court ruled on Monday – a decision likely to prolong this long-running legal saga.

High Court judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson ruled in favor of Mr Assange after his lawyers argued the US government had provided a “manifestly insufficient” guarantee that he would benefit from the same freedom protections. ‘expression that an American citizen if extradited from Great Britain.

Julian Assange, 52, was indicted on 17 counts of espionage and one count of misuse of a computer following the publication of classified US documents on his website almost 15 years ago.

Hundreds of supporters cheered and applauded outside the court as news of the decision reached them from inside the Royal Courts of Justice.

Mr Assange’s wife Stella said the US tried to put “lipstick on a pig – but the judges didn’t believe it”.

She said the United States should “read the situation” and drop the matter.

“As a family we are relieved, but how long can this last? » she raised. “This affair is shameful and it costs Julian enormously. »

The Australian computer scientist has spent the past five years in a high-security British prison after taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years. Julian Assange was not in court to hear the decision due to health reasons, his lawyer said.

US prosecutors say Mr Assange encouraged and assisted US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in stealing diplomatic cables and military files released by WikiLeaks.

His lawyers argued that he was a journalist who exposed wrongdoing by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sending him to the United States, they said, would expose him to politically motivated prosecution and risk a “blatant denial of justice.”

The US government says Julian Assange’s actions went well beyond that of a newsgathering journalist, attempting to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified government documents.

Freedom of press

The court’s decision follows debates over Mr. Assange’s claim that in disclosing the confidential documents he was essentially a publisher and should benefit from the protection of freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution American.

The hearing followed a tentative ruling in March that he could take his case to the Court of Appeals unless the United States guaranteed he would not face the death penalty if extradited and he would benefit from the same freedom of expression protections as an American citizen.

The United States has assured that it will respect these conditions, but Julian Assange’s lawyers have only agreed that he does not risk the death penalty.

They said the assurance that Mr. Assange could “rely on” the First Amendment fell short of the protections he deserved. Additionally, they argued that the prosecutor refused to say he would not challenge Julian Assange’s right to use such a defense.

“The real question is whether adequate insurance was provided to eliminate the real risk identified by the court,” said his lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald. “It is submitted that no adequate assurance was given. »

Lawyer James Lewis, representing the United States, assured that the founder of WikiLeaks would be “entitled to the full range of due process rights”, but said that some of his actions were “not entirely simply not protected” by the First Amendment.

“No one, neither United States nor foreign citizens, has the right to rely on the First Amendment to publish illegally obtained national defense information naming innocent sources, or risk being subjected to serious and imminent harm,” he said.

The court ruled that Julian Assange could appeal on two grounds, both relating to the issue of press freedom. The judges said that if he were deprived of a First Amendment defense, his extradition could be inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights, which also guarantees freedom of expression and protection of media.

Then, if he cannot rely on the First Amendment because he is not a U.S. citizen, then he could be treated unfairly because of his nationality, the court ruled.

Julian Assange’s lawyers say he faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted, although US authorities have assured any sentence would likely be much shorter.

Mr. Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health suffered during more than a decade of legal battles.

Passengers exiting a metro stop near the Royal Court could not miss a large sign bearing Julian Assange’s photo and the words: “Publishing is not a crime.” War crimes are. »

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the building to chant “Free Julian Assange” and “Freedom of the press, freedom of Assange.” Some waved white flags aimed at President Joe Biden, urging, “Let him go, Joe.”

Joe Biden said last month he was considering a request from Australia to drop the case and let Julian Assange return to his home country.

Authorities provided no further details, but Assange’s wife said it was “a good sign” and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Biden’s statement was encouraging.

Julian Assange’s US lawyer, Barry Pollack, said the decision was “an important step” in this case. “I hope that the United States will carefully review this decision and perhaps reconsider whether it should pursue this fundamentally flawed prosecution,” he said.

with Kwiyeon Ha, Associated Press

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