June 16, 2024

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Julian Assange extradition appeal hearing: what could happen?

Julian Assange extradition appeal hearing: what could happen?

A British court is set to make a final decision on Monday on whether Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, will be given the right to appeal his extradition order to the United States, where he faces charges under the Espionage Act.

Mr. Assange has been detained in a London prison since 2019, and the United States accuses him of violations in connection with obtaining secret government documents on WikiLeaks and publishing them in 2010.

His case has been moving through the courts slowly since a London court ordered his extradition in April 2022. Priti Patel, the British Home Secretary at the time, approved the extradition two months later.

In February, the Supreme Court heard Mr. Assange’s latest appeal, and in March, judges asked US authorities to provide specific guarantees about his treatment if extradited.

At a hearing on Monday, the court will decide whether those assurances are satisfactory — that Mr. Assange will not face the death penalty or be persecuted because of his nationality and that he can seek the same First Amendment protections as an American citizen. Whether Mr Assange can appeal his extradition.

While the timing of the ruling remains unclear, it could be issued Monday afternoon, after the hearing ends. Here are the possible outcomes:

At a news conference last week, members of Mr. Assange’s legal team and his wife said he could be put on a plane bound for the United States within 24 hours if a court rules he cannot appeal, potentially ending his years-long battle.

But Mr Assange’s legal team has vowed to challenge his extradition through an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Britain is obligated to comply with the court’s ruling as a member of the court and a signatory to it European Convention on Human Rights. A court challenge is likely to halt his extradition until the case is heard in Strasbourg.

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If the European Court of Human Rights does not intervene, Mr. Assange could be extradited to face charges in the United States, including 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act, for his role in obtaining and publishing secret military and diplomatic documents, and a federal charge of conspiring to hack the Pentagon computer network.

If convicted of these charges, he could face up to 175 years in prison, according to his lawyers, who described the charges as politically motivated. But US government lawyers, who said the leaks put people’s lives at risk, said Mr Assange would likely get a shorter sentence of four to six years.

In its ruling in March, the court rejected Mr Assange’s requests to appeal on six of the nine grounds he raised, saying they had “no merit”. But they said Mr. Assange had a “defensible case” based on the three remaining grounds for appeal: that in the United States he could face the death penalty, be persecuted because of his nationality, or not have access to First Amendment protection.

If the court decides that the guarantees it received from the United States on these three cases are not sufficient, an appeal may be filed, which could open the door to a new decision on his extradition.

This means that this legal case, which has captured the world’s attention and galvanized press freedom advocates, will remain contested, and that Mr. Assange’s extradition to the United States will at least be delayed.

Mr. Assange’s legal team said last week that it was continuing to press for a political solution to his extradition, in the hope that he would eventually be allowed to return to Australia, his country of origin.

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Human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson said the team was working closely with the Australian Prime Minister and the Attorney General “to try to reach a resolution to this case.”

“This matter could be resolved at any time when the United States makes the decision, which we say is the right decision, to drop this case and drop the indictment that has been condemned globally by free expression groups,” she added.

Last month, President Biden said the administration was considering a request from Australia to allow Mr. Assange to return there, sparking speculation that the United States might reconsider his case. The Justice Department declined to comment at the time.

Mr Assange’s team has suggested that judges could also exercise their judicial discretion and decide to dismiss the extradition case entirely, but there is no indication that this is on the table.

“I have a feeling that anything could happen at this point,” Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, said.