Online only

Assange again faces extradition

JOURNALIST and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange now faces extradition to the US, after High Court judges ruled in favour of the attempt by lawyers for the US Government to overturn an earlier court decision not to deport him. Assange is reported to have suffered a mini-stroke shortly after the judgment was handed down.

Crash barrier decorated with Assange tape

A barrier at the entrance to the Old Bailey at an earlier extradition hearing for Julian Assange in January 2021

Assange faces charges under the US Espionage Act. If convicted there, he faces a sentence of 175 years in prison. The charges relate to disclosures by WikiLeaks of diplomatic cables from US embassies and of the "Pentagon Logs" detailing war crimes by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange's fiancé Stella Morris said that Assange and his legal team will launch an appeal against the latest judgment "at the earliest possible moment".

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and Lord Justice Holyroyde ruled in favour of the US after a two-day hearing in October. Their judgment was delivered in early December.

The judges ruled that the earlier judgment against extraditing Assange had been based on an assessment of the suicide risk of his facing prison in the US, based the assumption that he would be held in a maximum-security prison. The court accepted the US's assurances that he would not be held in a "Supermax" prison.

The US also gave assurances that Assange, an Australian citizen, could "eventually" be transferred to serve his term in a prison in Australia if convicted. Jennifer Robinson, a member of Assange's legal team, had noted earlier that Australia has so far "refused to take a strong stance" on the Assange case. Shortly after the latest ruling, though, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce appeared to call for Assange to be tried in the UK or Australia.

Assange's legal team argued in the hearing that the assurances about not being sent to a Supermax and about serving a sentence in Australia were "meaningless" and "vague". An earlier document from the US lawyers seemed to reserve the right to imprison Assange in a Supermax prison. According to a Yahoo News report published in September, officials of the Trump Administration had plotted to murder Assange.

Tim Dawson, a member of the International Federation of Journalists' Surveillance Working Group, has covered the hearings for the IFJ and is also LFB's Welfare Officer. He was quoted in Press Gazette as saying: "How two of the most senior judges in England could take at face value assurances from the US government is extraordinary."

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet commented: "For Julian Assange to be extradited to answer charges for cultivating a source and encouraging the revelation of criminality would be a hammer-blow to free expression. Any journalist who thought they might upset a US administration will reasonably fear that they too could be targeted by a judicial snatch squad."

Nils Milzer, UN Special Raporteur on Torture, Tweeted that "Assange's stroke is no surprise. As we warned after examining him, unless relieved of the constant pressure of isolation, arbitrariness and persecution, his health would enter a downward spiral endangering his life." Assange had previously been in the prison hospital suffering from a lung compliant at maximum security prison where he has been since 2019, awaiting the hearings. Stella Morris reported that Assange believed the mini-stroke was caused by the stress of the hearings.

Assange has until 23 December to lodge an appeal.