Julian Assange gestures while speaking to the media from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy on May 19, 2017 in London

Julian Assange staves off extradition to US for now, UK court rules

Julian Assange has fended off the threat of immediate extradition to the United States to stand trial on charges that could see him spend the rest of his life behind bars, as the High Court in London signalled it may allow him to appeal his case.


The US government was given three weeks by the court to provide Assange with a number of guarantees on his First Amendment rights and that he would not be executed.


Assange would have the right to file an appeal against his extradition if the US did not provide these guarantees.


Assange asked for permission to examine the UK’s approved 2022 extradition decision during a two-day hearing last month.


Two judges ruled on Tuesday, stating that Assange would not be extradited straight away and that the US would have three weeks to guarantee that he would have the same legal rights as US residents.


The court stated in a written ruling, “If those assurances are not given, then leave to appeal will be granted and there will then be an appeal hearing.”


It stated that if the assurances are provided, a second hearing to determine whether the assurances are adequate will take place in May, following which a final judgment on leave to appeal will be made.


Three of the nine grounds of appeal, namely that Assange’s extradition is incompatible with his right to free speech, that his nationality could prejudice him at trial, and that he would not receive sufficient protection from the death penalty if extradited, were deemed by the court to give Assange a “real prospect of success.”


According to the evidence, the judge concluded that Mr. Assange had not demonstrated that the request was made with the intention of prosecuting him due to his political beliefs.


Assange was holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy from 2012 to 2019, according to the evidence the judge considered. However, the judge “concluded that this was not related to the extradition proceedings,” the statement stated.


The prosecution alleges that Assange goaded Manning into obtaining thousands of pages of unfiltered US diplomatic cables that potentially endangered confidential sources, Iraq war-related significant activity reports and information related to Guantanamo Bay detainees.


Each of those counts carries a potential sentence of 10 years, meaning that if convicted, Assange could be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.

He has been fighting the request for his extradition ever since.

Assange was not present at the crucial last-ditch hearing in February as he was too “unwell” to attend, according to one of his lawyers.

His legal team had argued that the US request was in breach of their client’s human rights, politically motivated and that his work was “ordinary journalistic practice” which he shouldn’t be punished for.

They also claimed Assange was the subject of an alleged CIA assassination plot while he lived at his Ecuadorian safe haven between 2012 and 2019.

“There is compelling evidence now in existence that senior CIA and [US] administration officials requested detailed plans and drawings of,” lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said.


The allegation has never been tested evidentially but his legal team had argued that it should be considered and made part of the case.

Who is Assange?

Julian Assange
Julian Assange granted permission to appeal against extradition to USJulian Assange granted permission to appeal against extradition to US

Assange began his whistleblowing website WikiLeaks in 2006 in what he argued was a bid to challenge the West’s power structures and uphold human rights.


To his acolytes, Assange is a defender of free speech whose journalism has helped uncover secrets of the powerful. His critics, however, have accused him of being a narcissist.


Born in 1971 in Queensland, Australia, Assange became a skilled and prolific hacker in his teens.


While this occasionally ran him into trouble with the law, his brand of “hacktivism” was central to the creation of WikiLeaks.


Julian Assange-How we got here


Assange’s battle began in 2010 when then-little-known WikiLeaks started publishing huge quantities of classified documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Starting in April, the website posted a video showing a US military helicopter firing on and killing two journalists and several Iraqi civilians in 2007. Several months later, it disclosed more than 90,000 classified Afghan war documents dating back to 2004.


In 2012, Assange sought political asylum within the Ecuadorian embassy in west London. He remained there for almost seven years until the Metropolitan Police entered his safe haven in 2019 acting on an extradition warrant from the US Justice Department.


British officers moved in after Ecuador withdrew his asylum and invited authorities into the embassy, citing Assange’s bad behavior.


The US want Assange to be brought to America where he faces an 18-count indictment handed down by the Eastern District of Virginia.


This alleges that the WikiLeaks founder actively solicited classified information, pushing former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to obtain thousands of pages of classified material and providing Assange with diplomatic State Department cables, Iraq war-related significant activity reports and information related to Guantanamo Bay detainees.


Two years later, a British judge rejected the US request on the grounds that such a move would be “oppressive” by reason of his mental health.


The US continued to press for Assange’s extradition and successfully overturned the judge’s ruling months later after providing fresh assurances on Assange’s treatment in America.


Julian Assange-What is his legal team asking for now?

Julian Assange
Stella Assange, Assange’s wife, speaks to the media after Tuesday’s ruling in London.

At the hearing on Tuesday, Assange’s team argued that the US’ motivations for their client were political.


Edward Fitzgerald, a lawyer for Assange, opened the defence’s arguments saying that sending the WikiLeaks founder to America would violate a US-UK treaty signed in 2003.

Article 4 of the US-UK Extradition Treaty, enshrined by the UK’s Extradition Act 2003, prohibits deportation for a “political offense,” he said. Therefore, he argued, “extradition would cost a fundamental violation” of that “expressed prohibition.”

“If one looks at the Extradition Act,” Fitzgerald continued, “there is nothing in that either disciplines or rules out the political offenses section.” The absence of this “means it can’t be relied” on, he argued.

Fitzgerald told the court Assange “is being prosecuted for engaging in ordinary journalistic practice of obtaining and publishing classified information, information that is both true and of obvious and important public interest.”

Mark Summers, also a member of Assange’s legal team in court, said the extradition request was “a paradigm example of state retaliation for the expression of political opinion.”

Julian Assange-Why is his extradition controversial?


Supporters of Assange and human rights groups have long voiced concern over the US indictment, saying that if the extradition order is allowed to proceed it could have a radical effect on journalism.


“The risk to publishers and investigative journalists around the world hangs in the balance.


Should Julian Assange be sent to the US and prosecuted there, global media freedoms will be on trial, too,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counterterrorism and criminal justice in Europe, in a statement.


Rebecca Vincent, director of International Campaigns for Reporters without Borders, said his case had “alarming implications for journalism and press freedom.”


“Not least of all, as he would be the first publisher tried under the US Espionage Act, which lacks a public interest defines,” Vincent said during a press conference last Thursday.


“This means that this precedent could be applied to any others that publish stories based on classified documents, so that could affect any journalist – any mainstream media organization – anywhere in the world.”


Nick Vamos, head of business crime at Peters & Peter’s law firm and a former head of extradition at the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service, told repots it was “unlikely” the court would come to a decision immediately.


“It’s a two-day hearing and obviously that reflects the number of issues that the defense sought to raise,” he explained. Vamos added that the judges would “be mindful that lots of people are paying attention” to Assange’s case and would likely take some time to consider the arguments presented.



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