US government given permission to appeal UK’s decision to not extradite Julian Assange

The High Court has given permission for the US government to appeal against a decision not to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

The US government will be able to appeal whether the assurances given by the US sufficiently mitigate the risk that Assange would be at risk of suicide if extradited to face charges in the US.

The US will also be able to question whether the judge applied the Extradition Act correctly and gave sufficient advance notice to the US of the decision, according to a spokesperson for Assange.

The decision follows a court ruling in January this year that it would be “oppressive” to send Assange for trial in the US to face hacking and espionage charges as he would be at high risk of suicide.

The case represents the first time that the US Espionage Act, originally enacted to prosecute spies during the First World War, has been used to bring charges against an individual for receiving and publishing classified information.

Assange has won backing from the New York Times, The Washington Post, the National Union of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and other press organisations that are concerned that similar charges could be brought against journalist who may publish classified information in the course of their work.

The WikiLeaks founder faces 17 charges under the 1917 Espionage Act for receiving and publishing hundreds of thousands of classified government documents leaked by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.

He also faced one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was later bolstered by the US by further contested allegations that he conspired with others to encourage them to obtain classified material through hacking. 

Judge Vanessa Baraitser dismissed US requests to extradite Assange in January. She said that he was at risk of taking his own life and has the “intelligence and the determination” to circumvent the suicide prevention programmes in US prisons.

The circumstances of the extradition, Assange’s clinical history and autism spectrum disorder diagnosis put him at high risk of taking his own live, the court concluded.

The US appeal was lodged by the Trump administration two days before president Biden took office. Assange’s defence lawyers allege the case against him is politically motivated.

Assange, who has been held on remand in Belmarsh prison in South East London since April 2019, could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted.

Rebecca Vincent, director of campaigns for Reporters without Borders, said that Assange’s prosecution in the US would have “severe and long-lasting implications for journalism and press freedom”.

“We call again for the Biden administration to drop the appeal and close the case, and for the UK to immediately release Assange from prison, where his mental and physical health remain at high risk,” she said.

Assange’s Fiancé Stella Moris said: “I am appealing directly to the Biden government to do the right thing, even at this late stage.”

Lawyers representing the US and the Crown Prosecution Service did not respond to enquiries. No date has been set for the hearing.

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