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UK: Julian Assange can be extradited to US to face espionage charges, court rules

Friday 10 December 2021, by siawi3

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2021/dec/10/julian-assange-can-be-extradited-to-us-to-face-espionage-charges-court-rules

Julian Assange can be extradited to US to face espionage charges, court rules

WikiLeaks co-founder’s fiancee says appeal will be launched, as Amnesty International says decision is a ‘travesty of justice’

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Supporters of Julian Assange hold placards outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images

Ben Quinn

Fri 10 Dec 2021 11.55 GMT First published on Fri 10 Dec 2021 10.24 GMT

Julian Assange can be extradited to the US, the high court has ruled as it overturned a judgment earlier this year.

The decision deals a major blow to the WikiLeaks co-founder’s efforts to prevent his extradition to the US to face espionage charges, although his fiancee immediately indicated that an appeal would be launched.

The senior judges found that a then-district judge had based her decision earlier this year on the risk of Assange being held in highly restrictive prison conditions if extradited.

But in their ruling on Friday, they sided with the US authorities after a near-unprecedented package of assurances were put forward that Assange would not face those strictest measures either pre-trial or post-conviction unless he committed an act in the future that required them.

Lord Burnett said: “That risk is in our judgment excluded by the assurances which are offered. It follows that we are satisfied that, if the assurances had been before the judge, she would have answered the relevant question differently.”

He added: “That conclusion is sufficient to determine this appeal in the USA’s favour.”

Allowing the appeal, the judges ordered that the case be remitted to Westminster magistrates court with a direction that a district justice send the case to the secretary of state, who will decide whether Assange should be extradited to the US.

Responding to the decision, Stella Moris, Julian Assange’s fiancee, said: “We will appeal this decision at the earliest possible moment.”

She described the high court’s ruling as “dangerous and misguided” and a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

“How can it be fair, how can it be right, how can it be possible, to extradite Julian to the very country which plotted to kill him?” she said.

The case against the 49-year-old relates to WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011.

Alarm at the high court ruling was expressed by advocates of press freedom, with Amnesty International describing the ruling as a “travesty of justice”.

Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe director, said: “By allowing this appeal, the high court has chosen to accept the deeply flawed diplomatic assurances given by the US that Assange would not be held in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison.”

“If extradited to the US, Julian Assange could not only face trial on charges under the Espionage Act but also a real risk of serious human rights violations due to detention conditions that could amount to torture or other ill-treatment. The US government’s indictment poses a grave threat to press freedom both in the United States and abroad.”

Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns at Reporters Without Borders and the organisation’s UK bureau director, tweeted: “This is an utterly shameful development that has alarming implications not only for Assange’s mental health, but also for journalism and press freedom around the world.”

The high court was told earlier this year that blocking Assange‘s removal from the UK due to his mental health risked “rewarding fugitives for their flight”.

James Lewis QC, for the US, said the district judge based her decision on Assange‘s “intellectual ability to circumvent suicide preventive measures”, which risked becoming a “trump card” for anyone who wanted to oppose their extradition regardless of any resources the other state might have.

The assurances offered by the US in a diplomatic note in February included one that Assange would not be subject to “special administrative measures” or held at a maximum security “ADX” facility, such as one in Florence, Colorado, either during a pretrial period or after any conviction.

The US also said it will consent to an application by Assange, if he is convicted, to be transferred to his native Australia to serve any sentence and that he would receive appropriate clinical and psychological treatment while in US custody.

The US assurances were described in the ruling by the high court judges on Friday as “solemn undertakings offered by one government to another.”

Lord Burnett of Maldon, lord chief justice, and Lord Justice Holroyde added in their ruling: “There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say. There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”