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UK court rules Julian Assange can be extradited to US


LONDON – A UK court ruled on Friday that Julian Assange may be extradited to the United States face espionage law charges that could lead to decades in jail, overturning a lower court ruling in the long-standing case against the troubled WikiLeaks founder.

The move was a victory for the Biden administration, at least for now, which continued an effort to prosecute Mr. Assange started under the Trump administration. But Mr Assange will seek to appeal the ruling to the UK Supreme Court, according to his legal team.

The Justice Department’s decision to charge Mr. Assange with crimes for obtaining and publishing secret government documents has raised new First Amendment issues and alarmed press freedom advocates. But because he fought against extradition, these issues were not discussed. His transfer to the United States could trigger a momentous constitutional battle.

Britain’s extradition case, however, did not focus on the legitimacy of the charges against Mr Assange – a trial judge ruled they were – but on the issue of find out if the conditions of detention in the United States are too harsh for a person suffering from their mental health.

In deciding that Mr Assange can be extradited after all, the British High Court has declared itself satisfied with assurances given by the Biden administration that it will not keep him under the most austere conditions reserved for high security prisoners and that , if he were to be convicted, it would allow him to serve his sentence in his native Australia.

Mr Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 as he faced an investigation into allegations of sexual assault in Sweden, which were ultimately dropped. He said he feared his human rights would be violated if he was extradited in the case.

He remained in the embassy for seven years until his deportation in 2019. The United States opened an indictment against him for hacking on the day of his deportation, then charged him under the United States Act. espionage a few weeks later. He has been held at Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019.

The complex case against Mr. Assange centers on his publication in 2010 of diplomatic and military records leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former military intelligence analyst – not his publication in the 2016 election emails Democrats robbed by Russia.

In three indictments drawn up under the Trump administration, prosecutors have laid down two sets of charges. The first is that Mr. Assange participated in a criminal hacking plot, both by offering to help Ms. Manning hide her tracks on a secure computer network and by engaging in a broader effort to encourage hackers to obtain secret material and send it to WikiLeaks. The other is that his solicitation and publication of information deemed secret by the government violated the espionage law.

Piracy is not a journalistic act. But the second set of charges could set a precedent that such journalistic-style activities can be treated as a crime in the United States – a separate question from whether Mr. Assange himself counts as a journalist.

In January, a lower court judge rejected the extradition request on the grounds that Mr. Assange risked being driven to suicide by US prison conditions. On January 19, in one of its last acts, the Trump administration filed an appeal. Shortly after taking office, the Biden administration decided to continue its efforts.

Friday’s court ruling said the decision to allow the extradition was based on a number of assurances from the United States, including that Mr. Assange would receive any necessary psychological treatment and that if found guilty, he would not be held in the only federal center in the country. supermax prison – the highest security institution, home to the country’s worst criminals.

Several doctors have claimed that Mr. Assange suffers from depression and memory loss and that he could attempt suicide if extradited, an argument that was central to his case.

Mr Assange’s fiancee Stella Moris said in a report that he would appeal “as soon as possible” and called Friday’s decision a “serious miscarriage of justice”. Ms Moris and Mr Assange have two children, conceived during the seven years he was in hiding at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, denounced the court’s ruling and warned that Mr. Assange’s life “is again in serious danger, as is the right of journalists to publish information that governments and businesses find. troublesome ”.

He added: “This is the right of a free press to publish without being threatened by a superpower of intimidation.”

Activists who gathered outside the courthouse in central London erupted in protest after news of the decision leaked outside.

“This is a very shameful development which has alarming implications not only for Assange’s mental health, but also for journalism and press freedom around the world,” wrote Rebecca Vincent, who followed the extradition hearing for Reporters Without Borders and was in the courtroom. Friday.