Friday June 14, 2024

Assange wins bid to appeal US extradition ruling: UK judges

May 21, 2024
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be seen in this image. — AFP/File
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be seen in this image. — AFP/File

LONDON: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday won a bid to appeal against a UK court ruling that approved his extradition to the United States to face trial for breaking national security laws.

Two London High Court judges granted Assange permission to appeal, having previously asked Washington to provide “satisfactory assurances” about free speech protections at any US trial. Those submissions were presented at a hearing on Monday, which the 52-year-old Australian did not attend.

Assange is wanted by Washington for publishing hundreds of thousands of secret US documents from 2010 as head of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. Had he lost at Monday´s hearing, Assange -- who has become a figurehead for free speech campaigners -- could have been swiftly extradited after a five-year legal battle.

Instead, he will now face another court battle in his long-running legal saga, after the UK government approved his extradition in June 2022. Assange´s wife Stella said outside court that the ruling “marks a turning point” and that “we are relieved as a family that the court took the right decision.

“Everyone can see what should be done here. Julian must be freed,” she added. Human rights monitor Amnesty International called the ruling “a rare piece of positive news for Julian Assange and all defenders of press freedom”.

“The USA´s ongoing attempt to prosecute Assange puts media freedom at risk worldwide. It ridicules the USA´s obligations under international law, and their stated commitment to freedom of expression,” said Simon Crowther, legal adviser at Amnesty.

In written submissions for the hearing, Edward Fitzgerald, representing Assange, accepted as “unambiguous” US government assurances that he would not face the death penalty. But he queried whether his client could rely on the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which covers freedom of speech and freedom of the press, at trial.

James Lewis, representing the US government, told the court Assange´s conduct was “simply unprotected” by the First Amendment. It does not apply to anyone “in relation to publication of illegally obtained national defence information giving the names of innocent sources to their grave and imminent risk of harm”, he submitted.