Stella Assange celebrates.

Stella Assange celebrates leaving court after a judge grants Julian Assange a right to appeal his extradition on May 20, 2024 in London, England.

(Photo: Guy Smallman/Getty Images)

'Finally a Glimmer of Hope': UK Court Rules Assange Can Appeal Extradition

"The High Court's decision is a rare piece of positive news for Julian Assange and all defenders of press freedom," one Amnesty expert said.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may appeal an extradition order to the U.S., the U.K. High Court ruled on Monday.

The 52-year-old Assange faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse due to WikiLeaks' publication of classified U.S. documents nearly 15 years ago. He has spent the last five years fighting extradition in London's high-security Belmarsh Prison.

"The High Court's decision is a rare piece of positive news for Julian Assange and all defenders of press freedom," Amnesty International legal adviser Simon Crowther said in response to the decision. "The High Court has rightly concluded that—if extradited to the USA, Assange will be at risk of serious abuse, including prolonged solitary confinement, which would violate the prohibition on torture or other ill-treatment."

"If the Biden administration cares about press freedom, it must drop the Assange case immediately."

The charges against Assange stem from WikiLeaks publications that revealed U.S. and U.K. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. prosecutors argue that Assange persuaded and facilitated U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in stealing classified documents that contained proof of these crimes, while Assange's lawyers maintain that he acted as a journalist and should be protected as one.

"Under the legal theory the government relies on in the indictment, any journalist could be convicted of violating the Espionage Act for obtaining or receiving national defense information from a source, communicating with a source to encourage them to provide national defense information, or publishing national defense information—acts journalists engage in every day," the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) warned in a statement.

In March, the U.K.'s High Court delayed Assange's extradition until the Biden administration could provide certain assurances, including that Assange would have protection under the First Amendment and that he would not face the death penalty. The court gave the administration three weeks to respond, and set a May 20 hearing date to determine if the assurances were sufficient or if Asange could appeal his extradition.

During Monday's hearing, Assange's lawyers argued that the administration's assurances were "blatantly inadequate," according toThe Associated Press.

While Assange's legal team accepted the assurance that the U.S. would not seek the death penalty as an "unambiguous executive promise," they did did not accept the U.S. response to whether or not Assange would be granted the same First Amendment rights as a U.S. citizen.

As The Guardian reported:

Edward Fitzgerald KC, representing Assange, said problems surrounding the assurances by the U.S. were "multifold" and they did not rule out the possibility of a U.S. court ruling that the WikiLeaks founder, as a foreigner, was not entitled to First Amendment rights.

The assurance was not that Assange could "rely" on First Amendment rights but "merely that he can seek to raise" them, Fitzgerald said.

In response to these arguments, High Court Judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson determined that Assange could appeal his extradition.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said the ruling was "finally a glimmer of hope" for Assange.

The WikiLeaks founder's wife, Stella Assange, said the U.S. had put "lipstick on a pig—but the judges did not buy it," according to AP.

"As a family we are relieved but how long can this go on?" she asked. "This case is shameful and it is taking an enormous toll on Julian."

FPF deputy director of advocacy Caitlin Vogus said the group welcomed the decision and urged the court to deny the extradition request.

"But better yet, the Biden administration can and should end this case now," Vogus continued.

"If [U.S. President Joe] Biden continues to pursue the Assange prosecution, he risks creating a precedent that could be used against any reporter who exposes government secrets, even if they reveal official crimes," Vogus added. "If the Biden administration cares about press freedom, it must drop the Assange case immediately."

Amnesty's Crowther agreed: "The USA's ongoing attempt to prosecute Assange puts media freedom at risk worldwide. It ridicules the USA's obligations under international law, and their stated commitment to freedom of expression. In trying to imprison him, the U.S. is sending the unambiguous message that they have no respect for freedom of expression, and that they wish to send a warning to journalists and publishers everywhere: that they too could be targeted, for receiving and publishing classified material—even if doing so is in the public interest."

"As the fight continues in the U.K. courts, we call on the USA to finally put an end to this shameful saga, by dropping all the charges against Assange," Crowther continued. "This would bring the process in the U.K. to an immediate halt, and Julian Assange will be freed. Assange has already spent five years in prison in the U.K., much of which has been arbitrary."

Assange, whose has suffered from health problems, has been confined in one form or another since 2010. For nearly seven years before 2019, he sheltered in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

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