U.K. court allows Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange to appeal extradition

In a short ruling, two senior judges said the U.S. submissions were not sufficient and said they would allow the appeal to go ahead.

Updated - May 20, 2024 10:05 pm IST

Published - May 20, 2024 05:25 pm IST - LONDON

File photo of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

File photo of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. | Photo Credit: AP

The U.K. High Court on May 20 granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a reprieve by allowing him to appeal his extradition to the United States. The 52 year old Australian has been charged on multiple counts for publishing sensitive military and diplomatic cables in 2010 and violating the U.S.’s Espionage Act. The U.S. has argued that lives were put at risk because of the leaked documents contained unredacted names.

In May the court cleared the extradition conditional on the U.S. providing two assurances : one, the death penalty would not be applied in Mr Assange’s case and two, Mr Assange would be allowed to rely on the First Amendment (i.e., free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution) during his trial.

In a short court session on May 20, two judges ruled that the U.S. government had not met the requirements. Specifically, in April, the U.S. government had said Mr. Assange “will have the ability to raise and seek to rely upon” the First Amendment but whether that would apply to a non-US national would be up to the courts. Last week, his lawyer, Jennifer Robinson had called that a “non-assurance”.

A crowd gathered outside the court cheered as it heard the outcome of the legal proceedings. Addressing the crowd, Mr Assange’s wife, Stella, described the U.S. arguments as “trying to paint lipstick on a pig” and the case as an “attack on journalists everywhere”.

“How long can this go on for?” she said, making a case for her family to be reunited. Mr Assange has been held at the high-security Belmarsh prison since 2019. Prior to this he had spent approximately seven years in the Ecuador Embassy in London after seeking asylum there in 2012, following charges for sexual offences in Sweden. The charges were dropped in 2017.

The U.S. Justice Department brought the case against Mr Assange in 2019 — during the presidency of Donald Trump.

“The United States should never have brought this case,” Mr Assange’s U.S. lawyer, Barry Pollack told reporters at a briefing on Monday afternoon. “ It is utterly inconsistent with First Amendment values,” he said, adding that he hoped the U.S. would take a hard look at today’s decision and decide whether it wanted to continue pursuing this case.

The Australian government has asked for the case to be dropped, a request U.S. President Joe Biden said his administration was “considering”.

There was much more “enthusiasm” for prosecuting this case in the Trump administration Ms Assange told reporters on Monday afternoon, as she urged the Biden administration to reconsider pursuing it.

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